21 October 2000 | zetes
Absolutely Perfect. One of the best films ever made. 10/10
It is a little known fact that India produces more films per year than any other country. The reason that most people don't know that is because their films do not generally appeal to us, and we would see them as oddities suspended in their own culture. Possibly they'd be amusing or interesting to watch, but they would probably be hard to enjoy (to demonstrate the difference in taste, Roger Ebert attended an Indian film festival a year or two ago, and when he questioned its director what American film did the best business over there, he answered that the movie _Baby's Day Out_, which is basically like one of those Popeye cartoons where Sweet-Pea wanders through construction sights blindly, except extended to 90 minutes, had theaters packed in India all throughout its run; the film bombed completely in the US). Tastes differ. Humanity does not. This is proved to the utmost in Ray's masterful _Pather Panchali_.
This film has got to be the best ever made about, well, life in general. It reminded me a lot of a Chinese film, Zhang Yimou's _To Live_, which was good, but its situations finally seemed a bit contrived. _Pather Panchali_ feels as real as life itself. To be sure, it contains great moments of sadness, but, for the most part, it concentrates on the beauty of the world around us. One of the major characters is this ancient woman, maybe even in her nineties. She is hunched over, has no teeth, and has crooked eyes. But Ray makes her form beautiful. He often finds characters with exaggerated and odd features. And there is nothing more beautiful in this world than the love between members of a family, and Ray revels in this. The relationship between the brother and sister is heartstoppingly beautiful.
I could not say anything bad about this film. But there is one thing I would like to see: a DVD version of this film, and indeed of each of the films of the Apu Trilogy, and only Criterion could do this effectively, which is kind of disappointing, since I know a major film company already owns its rights and would probably never give them up without huge pay; a DVD version with scholarly commentary. Hindu symbology is present in a large quantity in this film, along with several Hindi ceremonies. Of course, I loved seeing this. I am not completely unfamiliar with the culture, so I was able to catch a little, but there is so much I don't know. A commentary track on a DVD would help me understand the film better, and thus love it even more.