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  • Jeff Beck

The Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray's Masterful Exploration of Humanity (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)


The Films:


Satyajit Ray has long been considered by many to be the most influential voice in Indian cinema over the last several decades. His may be a name known only to the most avid of film connoisseurs, but his work has gone on to inspire some of the world's greatest filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Francois Truffaut, and Christopher Nolan. Within his extensive filmography, there seems little doubt that his most beloved works have remained "The Apu Trilogy" (based on books by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay), which were also among his earliest. This week, The Criterion Collection, who were already instrumental in restoring the films after the original negatives were destroyed in a fire several years ago, is giving the trilogy their prestigious 4K upgrade to improve its quality even more than before, so naturally it's the perfect time to revisit this stunning set of films to see what has made them endure for so long.


Because a detailed synopsis for each film would take up too much space, I'll instead be brief for each of the three parts. "Pather Panchali" (Song of the Little Road) introduces us to young Apu, who lives with his parents, older sister, and "auntie" in a run-down house in a small village in India. The father makes his living as a priest, but decides to leave in search of a better source of money for his impoverished family, causing a strain on the wife he leaves behind.


"Aparajito" (The Unvanquished) picks up with Apu and his parents moving to the large city of Benares, and mainly focuses on the boy's determination to become a scholar. Finally, "Apur Sansar" (The World of Apu) focuses on adult Apu struggling to make his way in the world. While attending the wedding of a friend's cousin, an unexpected surprise occurs, ultimately changing Apu's life considerably.


"The Apu Trilogy" is a deliberately-paced, slice-of-life series of films that was heavily inspired by Italian neorealism, which is exactly what gives them that immediate feeling of being down-to-Earth, emotionally-relatable, and perhaps above all, humanistic. Ray's simplistic approach to the story and characters is not overloaded with a plethora of events or twists, and yet, by concentrating just on the struggles of Apu and his family, he creates a deep, rich saga that taps directly into the emotion and humanity of the situation.


As the events unfold, perhaps without even realizing it, you'll find that Ray has pulled you in to the point where you feel for their struggles, their tragedies, and the (seemingly-few) positive events that happen along the way. That said, this is no maudlin tale that is meant to easily play on your heartstrings. As the neorealism implies, Ray merely presents the reality of this family, while also providing just the right emotional notes to let you in as we follow them, but without overdoing it to the point of becoming sappy.


By the end of this nearly six-hour saga, you feel as though you've truly gotten to know this young man. After all, you've had the incredible experience of watching him grow up over the course of these films, suffering tragedy and hardship, but also finding a bright spot in the end that leaves hope for his future, and ultimately hitting just the right note to send this tale off with a satisfying cathartic release. In the end, it's not hard at all to see why Ray's trilogy is so beloved & respected the world over. It's a deeply-moving, human experience that has easily stood the test of time, and will only continue to do so.


Video/Audio:


This set features the three films on both 4K (UHD) and Blu-ray (1080p) in 1.37:1 transfers of spectacular quality. As a result of the restoration, an incredible collaboration between Criterion and The Motion Picture Academy, the films look absolutely stunning, and it can easily be said that this is the best they've looked since their original release over 60 years ago. Likewise, the restored monaural soundtracks on all three films are phenomenal, giving you every bit of dialogue and music in outstanding quality. It comes as no surprise that the exhaustive efforts that went into restoring these films has greatly paid off, giving us a remarkably impressive release.


Special Features:


Pather Panchali


A Long Time on the Little Road (15 Minutes)

Soumitra Chatterjee (7 Minutes)

Shampa Srivastava (16 Minutes)

Soumendu Roy (13 Minutes)

Ravi Shakar (6 Minutes)


Aparajtio


The Small Details (11 Minutes)

A Conversation with Satyajit Ray, 1958 (15 Minutes)

Making "The Apu Trilogy": Satyajit Ray's Epic Debut (38 Minutes)

The Creative Person: "Satyajit Ray" (29 Minutes)


Apur Sansar


Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore (15 Minutes)

"The Apu Trilogy": A Closer Look (44 Minutes)

Honorary Oscar (3 Minutes)

Restoring "The Apu Trilogy" (13 Minutes)


The set comes with a wealth of special features, totalling over three and a half hours, that includes a multitude of interviews with Ray, the actors, and film scholars, as well as analyses of the films and a look at the extensive restoration process. This is simply a wonderful collection of extras that gives anyone looking to learn more about the films plenty to delve into.


Conclusion:


Satyajit Ray's "The Apu Trilogy" is a deeply-moving, human experience that has stood the test of time as a profound and influential work over the last several decades. Its simplistic, slice-of-life approach is the perfect gateway for this remarkably compelling tale of a family's struggles, providing just the right emotional notes to form a strong attachment, and ultimately making Ray's trilogy a marvelous accomplishment that one doesn't soon forget.


Score: 4.5/5


Now available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray.



Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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