Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The World of Apu

I recently had the pleasure of viewing this 1959 Indian film by writer/producer/director Satyajit Ray. It is absolutely wonderful.

The final part of "The Apu Trilogy", this film follows Apu Roy, an unemployed, educated young man who lives in Calcutta. He does his best to live life as freely as possible, but this is is threatened when (through a series of circumstances) he is married to a friend's cousin. He and his wife live happily enough for a time, though they have no money.
Without overtly spoiling anything, the third act of the film is primarily about a depressed, older Apu struggling to connect with his young son.

This is a beautiful black-and-white film that stands high above every other movie I've seen come out of India. I once had a girlfriend who loved Bollywood musicals, and she made me sit through about twenty of those god-awful things. I think it's fine if that's your personal taste, but I personally find most musicals to be terrible, and I really can't get into foreign musicals.
This film, however, is nothing like those. The director actually grew up in a very arts-oriented home, and made his living as an illustrator before going in to films. He despised the happy-go-lucky Indian films of his time (and so would despise more modern ones) and sought to introduce the Indian public to the artistry that could be found in post-war films from France and Italy. He was particularly inspired by Italian neorealism (especially the film "Bicycle Thieves").

While many people would find this film difficult to sit through because of its long, lovingly held shots and lack of action, I think anyone who loves films should take a look at it.
(A note of minor interest: "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" creator Matt Groening has always been a fan of Indian films, and named the stereotypical Indian convenience store clerk character in "The Simpsons" after the main character of "The Apu Trilogy".)

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