Foreign Language Thursday: Pather Panchali (1955)

26 05 2011

Today we examine the poetic and emotional “Pather Panchali”, directed by the legendary Satyajit Ray in his very first film making this, without a doubt, one of the finest directorial debuts ever. “Pather Panchali” revolves around the newly born Apu and his family over several years as they struggle with life; from the weather to their neighbors to even one another. The incredibly well formed characters give the movie a very natural feel allowing for more impact in every scene. It is easy to recognize one-self within these characters as they each have a distinct personality and outlook, and despite the regular situations presented on screen they never allow it to never feel worn.

“Whatever God does is for the best.” 

The biggest strength of “Pather Panchali” is the characters. The plot revolves around Apu’s family which includes his sister, Durga, as well as his mother, father, and auntie. Apu is the looking glass in which we observe everything that happens, he acts like a child but is enough of a blank slate that the viewer can associate themselves with him as someone who is a passenger and can do little in regards to the events surrounding him. His mother acts as the strict hand watching over the children. She worries about money, what her children are up to, and what other people think about her. Her husband on the other hand is very much the opposite; he has a strong sense of duty yet has a more playful sense of responsibility. He quotes the above line “Whatever God does is for the best” often and lets life come to him, nevertheless both of them obviously love their children very much and would do anything for them but show it in two separate ways, he will give them anything while she is consciously thinking of what is best for them and the entire family. His older sister really is a mix of the two. She shares her mother’s stubbornness while also being adventurous and fun-loving like her father. Finally, his aunt is older and nearing the end of her life so she is a little more care-free and encourages Durga is her misadventures, not to mention frequently clashing with the children’s mother over several issues. All of these people are so well formed and play off one another extremely well giving the movie a natural and riveting dynamic.

“… we’ll go and look at the trains again. We’ll get a good look this time.” 

“Pather Panchali” has often been described as poetic and with good reason, the cinematography is just outstanding. Subrata Mitra works on his very first movie at only 21 when filming started and is able to bring the country to life. As great as the characters are, it is in his work in which the movie really comes into its own. Mitra uses wide shots and natural lighting to excellent effect and takes full advantage of nature when it presents itself. The shots during the monsoon rain scenes will particularly stay with me for some time.

Overall “Pather Panchali” is a familiar yet absorbing  film. In the beginning it is quite easy to relate to these characters in what seems to be a standard family drama, yet little does the viewer know that this familiarity will only greatly intensify what is going to happen later. The plot moves along surprisingly well and it is always a treat to look at. It is very hard to overstate how good “Pather Panchali” is because it truly is one of the best films ever made.

Score: 100/100

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