Monday, September 2, 2013

#669: Charulata

(Satyajit Ray, 1965)

It was unlikely that Charulata would impress me as much as The Big City did, but ultimately these are two very different movies, despite sharing a star and a director. Madhari Mukherjee here plays a woman totally separated from her character in The Big City. Although the two films share Ray's sympathetic perspective on the female condition, Mukherjee's character here is more akin to the titular character of The Earrings of Madame de..., secure in her wealth, but trapped in her life. Ray's work here is flashier, too - though of course nowhere near Ophüls level excess - most obviously in the film's enigmatic and stylized final moments meant to pay tribute to the source material's open ending.

Despite the beautiful and lyrical direction, Charulata is ultimately less satisfying for me than The Big City because of its overwhelming melodrama. The climax seems so overblown that I had a hard time reaching the emotional epiphany Mukherjee's character does, unlike the similar moments in The Big City. It's important, too, to note the similarities between this film and The Music Room. Like that early Ray masterpiece, Charulata uses a palace as a prison, deftly winding his way through its rooms and slowly but forcefully demonstrating the inevitable doom of the ruling classes of India's past. The main character in each film is very different, but both are perfectly calibrated for what each film wants to say.

I think Charulata might grow on me with subsequent viewings, but for now it ranks a notch below the other two Ray films currently in the Collection. Of course, I continue to anticipate many more films being added from this master, just as I hope Ray is not the only Indian to receive such attention.


  1. Charulata is my favourite film by Ray atm. I'm what you may call, gobsmacked by Madhabi Mukherjee's beauty and her presence on screen. I read his book ( Speaking about Film ) and I agree with his views on it. It certainly showed his skill as a director and an epitomime of "all that he learned" soo far in making films, but it was by no means his greatest film. Post Pather Panchali, heavy European influence is seen in his camerawork esp. I LOVE is latter films, Days and Nights in the Forest and Distant Thunder, they were a return, to some extent, to his distinctive style seen in Pather Panchali. I'm also a fan of Ritwick Ghatack.

    Apparently you saw allot of great movies. I would like to discuss cinema with you if you would oblige me. You look at cinema very different than I do.

  2. Just off the top of my head, movies I've seen recently that I would like to discuss are : Days of Being Wild, Goodbye Dragon Inn, Black Girl, Jamaica Inn, Sounds From the Second Floor...

  3. I agree 100% with your assessment of this era of Ray's work vs his work in the 50s, most specifically in the Apu trilogy. I love both eras, but the Apu trilogy feels like something wholly foreign both literally and figuratively, while The Big City and Charulata are almost entirely immediately recognizable for someone familiar with Hollywood and conventional film. I wish I was more familiar with other Indian cinema (and really non-Japanese Asian film in general), but this is a great hole in my film knowledge that I hope to fill in the coming years.

    Of the movies you mention, I have seen Days of Being Wild, Black Girl, and Jamaica Inn. I enjoyed all three, though it's been some years since I've seen Jamaica Inn. About ten years ago I watched every Hitchcock film available on home video in order - Jamaica Inn is by no means my favorite Hitchcock film pre-Hollywood, but I remember it being quite entertaining. Black Girl is obviously a significant achievement - I am struck any time a movie can deliver a new perspective to cinema while simultaneously being technically accomplished - and I loved Days of being wild, though I haven't seen that for a while either. It looks like it's on Netflix so maybe I'll rewatch it soon. I'd be curious to know what you think of Wong Kar-Wai in general.

    And thanks for the reminder about Songs from the Second Floor. I wanted to see that but it fell off my radar. I've added it to the list now.

  4. Have you seen Elstree Calling? I saw the 2 sketches Hitch did in the films, but I haven't seen the " scenes of Gordon Harker struggling to tune his home-made television set, watched by Hannah Jones and his wife"
    Taking this one by one. Days of Beings Wild :

    To my mind it was his greatest film. Why? It was by far his most intimate ( and the scenes just roll off the tongue : the early scenes with him and the 1st girl, the scene between the 2nd girl he brought back to the apartment in the night and his neighbour, the scene right after that! Which is one of the best scenes I've ever experienced in cinema! Starts with him on the bed lighting a cigarette, the story of the bird who only flies when he is born and only lands when he dies, leading to the solo dance to Xavier Cugat's Maria Elena ), with the atmosphere, the camera work, the close ups, this film has more a distinct style than In the Mood for Love for instance . Through time, I see more and more western influence in his films. Yes In the Mood for Love had great use of colour, but I've seen greater use of that type of colour technique from the French and the Italians . ITMFL was a special films, Chungking Express and Happy Together were also special, but I think this was the most special of them all.

    My interest in Jamaica Inn is in what Hitchcock dis between Laughton and Maureen O'Hara . Certainly anticipating Vertigo

  5. Elstree Calling was not on video at the time, but I have watched a few of the segments on youtube. I'll have to watch Days of Being Wild again. I love Chungking Express and In the Mood For Love, the latter especially because of the use of music (and Doyle is a great cinematographer).

    Incidentally, do you have a favorite movie? I'm curious.

  6. I have a strong interest in visual art as a whole. Before I really started watching the great movies by the great directors I was ignorantly suspicious of Cinema as an art from, so I approached cinema trying to be objective as possible. I realise that this attempt at objectivity I see the movies better. Could you relate to that? Two examples are La Dolce Vita and Rear Window. Since I saw it Rear Window was one of my favourite movies, and when my film analyses reached Rear Window I saw things about it that I wouldn't have noticed on my own, because I was "politically blinding" myself from any objective, critical view of it. I realised that I was greater that I thought. After seeing 8 1/2 I searched for months, trying to get my hands on La Dolce Vita ( as you may know ). When I finally got it, it gave trouble playing the subs were off, then I had to wait days to fix problems with my player, then when it was playin, smething was wrg with the copy I had, so I had to watch the other half from somewhere else. But when I got all this together I sat down and watched it. And for nearly 3hrs I didn't move, it was and is certainly one of my best experiences in cinema. For a long time after, since I developed a personal connection with my (pre)experience with it, I was adamant that I was Fellini's best film. But earlier this year I had some "epiphanies" and realised how great 8 1/2 was, in the ways I wudn't go into here ( this is long enough already). I can list films that I would choose to watch for the rest of my life, but that would mainly be films I consider the greatest I ever saw.

    If I had to pick a group of movies to watch for the rest of my life. SOME are :
    2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho , North By Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, An Autumn Afternoon ( though I consider Tokyo Story greater because it purer in his style ), Anadlou, Apocalypse Now, Stalker, Zerkalo, Murnaus, Bunuels, Taxi Driver, The Searchers, My Darling Clementine, Once Upon a Time in the West, Ray, Ghatk, ,Kiarostami for sure, A Moment of Innocence, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Two Lane Black Top A Brighter Summer Day, Goodbye Dragon Inn, Week End, Le Mepris, Alphaville, Shoah, 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, La Terra you can see, this list coud very easily turn into hunderds, because there are very fine/blurred gaps when it comes to choosing these movies for me.

  7. It's funny, but for all our supposed differences in how we approach film, our lists would line up pretty well. 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita are certainly my favorite Fellini movies, and Weekend ad Contempt are my favorite Godard films (though I also love a woman is a woman). Vertigo is probably my favorite movie, and I'm currently heavily engaged with Kiarostami, especially Close Up and Certified Copy.

    Most interestingly, An Autumn Afternoon is by far my favorite Ozu, though Late Spring and Tokyo Story loom larger for me in an historical context.

    I'm currently in the process of watching Shoah, which I had to divide into four parts for both logistical and emotional reasons. It's affecting me deeply, and I'm having difficulty finishing it, even though I find it to be a singular cinematic experience. I had dreaded watching Salo for years, but it turns out that fiction has nothing on reality.

  8. I could watch Shoah every year for the rest of my life...But it's soo sad!

    I also contribute to a blog. I'm not a seasoned writer, so i'm new to the whole, getting your points across, thing. Especially since we try to capture moving pictures with words. Here are my posts soo far, feel free to comment :

    I would like to start a collaboration with you. More specifically a film discussion series ( see our 8 1/2 LDV post )that we both can post on our respective blogs, starting with out discussion on Summer With Monika. You can change your words, add to and edit it. Obv my 1st line will be taken out. I think it's a good idea and beneficial to both our blogs. What do you say?

  9. You saw Gravity? What did you think about it? Here's what I think :

  10. I'd be happy to continue our discussions on your blog (this one is reserved just for spine numbers). I actually didn't have much insight into Summer with Monika specifically because I watched the movie so long ago - I'd probably have to watch it again to have any clear opinion on your comments. Did you have any other specific movie in mind?

    Unfortunately I haven't seen Gravity yet (I have a small child which prevents me from going to the theater as often as I would like). I do plan on seeing it when I can, though, and I'll read your piece and let you know what I think then. I enjoyed your Ozu piece, his use of color can often be under-appreciated since he came it to it so late in his career.

  11. We could discuss, Italian Neo-realism and that visual and atmospheric aesthetic present through classic Italian cinema. Who brought it to his peers? They went on to derive from it for decades to come. As far as I saw it was Luchino Vinsconti in Ossessione then, developed further by Rossellini in Germania Anno Zero, then, really took to another level by Vinsconti himself in La Terra Trema, which is in my view, barring Kane which was the greatest lit movie of that era and probably of all time, the most beautiful film up to that time and for years to come...Up to the massive leap 8 1/2 was to that visual and atmospheric aesthetic...

    Alfred Hitchcock - I saw that you said that Vertigo was your favourite movie, recently I have been re-examining what is hitch's best movie, i'm tryin to take an objective position on it.Vertigo has stayed with me more than any movie ever, it "took control of my universe" as Godard put it more than any film ever. Rear Window was unprecedented and as the dir himself said "my most cinematic movie", with the notion of pure film that hitch and many directors, Psycho was beyond that in my opinion, it was on a next level, I see soo much genius in Psycho, North by Northwest was deep, perverse and had arguably most of his best scenes, Shadow of a Doubt with its impressionist/expressionist mis en scene. Charlie's evil world haunts me, I feel the evil in her world.Then there are his underrated films. The Trouble With Harry in my view is a masterpiece, it's surrealist comedy was unseen before or since, Marnie disgusted me when I saw it, but then I realised that was its intention, an expressionist film. Then there's Frenzy. Was Bela Tarr right? Deceptively packaged in a suspense thriller its a fantastic surrealist comedy that still as me laughing at it.

    We can hav our discussions here :
    If you have any ideas or other topics, let me know.