Thursday, March 24, 2016

#784: Aparajito

(Satyajit Ray, 1956)

Aparajito is the middle film in the Apu Trilogy, but like Pather Panchali before it, it was not assumed there would be a follow-up. This makes the film different from the majority of second films in a trilogy, even though it also has a bit of the abrupt ending that many middle films have. One similarity it does share with such movies is the leap in technical skill on display that often come from maturity, larger budgets, and a confidence to take risks borne of success. I mentioned the talent and sophistication Ray brought to Pather Panchali in my thoughts on that film, but a small budget and the enormous challenge of doing the shoot in the village where it was set meant some things were destined to be compromised. Aparajito has significantly fewer barriers, and as a result it is a slicker and more complex film - though not necessarily a better or more important one.

The pacing of Aparajito is particularly noteworthy. The film starts out with Apu not much older than he was in the final moments of the first film, still spending his days exploring and getting into harmless trouble. However, this time it's in the streets of a well-populated town where his father has moved the family to make a better living. The first half hour or so of the film is spent establishing his new life and that of his mother's while building up the signifiers and thematic underpinnings of what is to come both in this movie and the next. (Many of these signifiers needed explanation for me, provided by the solid short special feature on the disc.)

The movie takes a dramatic shift when (spoiler etc.) Apu's father dies, and this is really where the momentum for the rest of the trilogy gets going. Apu's journey into adulthood through education and independence is a story of modernity and the toll it takes on humanity, something that comes into focus even more in the evolving relationship with trains in the third film. But it's also a humanist story of a cultural awakening in the midst of a changing society. This is the core strength of Aparajito on its own, and the film would be quite impressive separated from its beginning and ending chapters simply because it depicts this evolution so gracefully.

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