Monday, September 15, 2008

The Week in Review - 14/9/08

It's been a remarkable week of films, with the highlights being three films by Satyajit Ray and Jean Eustace's La maman et la putain.
  • Beyond Our Ken (Luke Walker & Melissa Maclean, Australia, 2007)
  • La maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore, Jean Eustace, France, 1973)
  • Pather Panchali (Song of the Road, Satyajit Ray, India, 1955)
  • Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World, Satyajit Ray, India, 1984)
  • Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, Satyajit Ray, India, 1959)
  • Piano, solo (Riccardo Milani, Italy, 2007)
La maman et la putain
I simply don't have the time to write sufficiently about this extraordinary film. I don't believe I've ever sat for three and a half hours in a cinema without a break, but I did without any problems during this screening at Melbourne Cinémathèque. I'd been anticipating it since Isaki Lacuesta, Spanish director of Le leyenda del tiempo (The Legend of Time, 2006) brought it to my attention after the screening of his impressive film at ACMI earlier in the year. I believe he described it as his favourite film, and I can see why. I may write on this in more detail after watching it again. I have been participating in an online discussion at the At The Movies discussion board. Or check out Jonathan Rosenbaum's piece.

Pather Panchali
Now, I don't want to go into a rant about how important films like this, screening as part of a partial-retrospective of India's most celebrated film-maker, should be shown in their original ratio (4:3, rather than the 16:9). Nor do I want to whine about the air-conditioning failing, leaving us to swelter in 29 degrees Celsius (but thanks to the staff who gave us two tickets for the price of one). So I'll just proceed with stating that this is probably the best Indian film I have ever seen. Not that I've seen many, but this is seriously impressive cinema.

The child's perspective, the beautiful cinematography, the amazing characters, the austerity and restraint of dialogue, the Ravi Shankar score, the heart-breaking story all combine to produce a film that just has to be experienced. This was Ray's first film and the beginning of his Apu trilogy. Unfortunately, the middle of the trilogy is not screening as part of the retrospective.

I've been to rural Bengal on six occasions, the last being 1990. I was struck with how authentic this film is, and how recognisable it's look is. At least as at 1990, the essence of what is depicted in Pather Panchali, could still be seen in Bengal, a land that has largely remained unchanged. Check out the 105 second clip at this site.

Apur Sansar
The final installment in the Apu trilogy, and another remarkable piece of output by Ray, though not quite at the same level of accomplishment as Pather Panchali, in my opinion. Ray shows great compassion for his characters, depicting the struggles of one character across three films - childhood in Pather Panchali, adolescence in Aparajito and adulthood in Apur Sansar. But it's not just the struggles of Apu, but also those around him. In doing so, Ray is tapping into the greater themes of human struggle. I hope to see these again without the projection issues that have dogged the sessions I attended.

Another Ray film, based on a novel, and it shows. I enjoyed it in the context of a Ray retrospective and as a serious film from India (I hate Bollywood cinema), but it's not on the same level as the Apu films. Or maybe it's just that I'm not particularly taken by melodrama.

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