This second film in the poetic Apu trilogy finds Judge Bryan Byun glued to the screen.
"Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon."—Akira Kurosawa
Note: This film is the second in a trilogy; please refer to the review for Pather Panchali, the first film in the trilogy, for more background on these films and their director, Satyajit Ray.
Aparajito (The Unvanquished) is the second film in Indian director Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, and it is based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bannerjee. Following the tragic events chronicled in the first film, Pather Panchali, Apu's family, which now consists of his father Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) and his mother Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee), have moved from their rural village to a temple city on the banks of the holy river Ganges. As in the previous film, the family is surviving but hardly prospering; Harihar, a Brahmin priest, ekes out a meager living reciting religious scriptures, while Sarbajaya, as always, takes care of the household. Whereas Pather Panchali seemed to exist in a world outside of time, Aparajito begins in 1920.
Apu (played by Pinaki Sen Gupta as a young boy and by Smaran Ghosal as a teenager) spends his days exploring the city and playing with friends. These are among the film's most memorable scenes, the streets and people of the sacred temple city reflected in Apu's quiet, watchful gaze. For a time, life for Apu is, if not quite idyllic, then at least ripe with discovery. Unfortunately, tragedy is never far away from this hapless family. Harihar falls ill and dies, leaving Apu and his mother to survive without means of support.
Mother and son move to another town to live with an older relative (Ramani Sen Gupta as Uncle Bhabataran). Here Apu begins training for the priesthood according to his mother's wishes. Apu, however, now an adolescent with the same bright mind and thirst for knowledge, would rather to go to school. Sarbajaya relents, and Apu begins a journey that will eventually take him to the proverbial big city of Calcutta.
Aparajito builds upon the theme developed in the previous film, of family bonds caught among the unpredictable and pitiless tides of nature and fortune. Here, ambition and the need to establish one's own identity accomplish what even death could not: the tearing of family ties. Though the moral dilemma at the heart of Aparajito—how can Apu pursue his dreams and become an adult without abandoning his family?—is the stuff of countless domestic melodramas, the film never succumbs to sentimentality, forced happy endings, or preachy statements. What Ray did so well in Pather Panchali, he does even better here, which is to portray the tragedies and disappointments of life with complete honesty. Apu makes decisions he later regrets—although, if he had to make those decisions again, he'd probably make the same choices—but ultimately accepts the consequences of those choices. The essential quality of humanity, Ray seems to be saying, is that, no matter what happens to us, we go on. Humanity abides.
This Sony Pictures Classics DVD release of Aparajito offers a cleaned-up print of the film, and the picture and sound quality are a marked improvement over Pather Panchali. As with that title, however, Aparajito suffers from numerous scratches and other defects on the source material, and the image is far from ideal. Short of a full restoration, however, this is probably about as clean as these films will get on DVD. Audio is presented once again in Dolby Digital Mono, and is also on a par with the other films—scratchy and muted in places, but perfectly listenable. Extras are once again nonexistent.
Although Aparajito is part of a trilogy of films, viewers new to Apu's story will probably not miss much by starting with this film, which stands up well on its own. Poetic and mesmerizing, Satyajit Ray's unique vision is not to be missed by anyone with a serious interest in cinema.
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