13 September 2002 | samdiener
A beautiful, morally complex, moving evocation of a woman's dilemmas of love and politics in 1907 India.
The Home and The World is an excellent film by the great Bengali director Satyajit Ray. Based on a novel by Tagore, the drama focuses on the personal and political dilemmas faced by a wealthy Bengali woman in 1907 as her husband and his best friend vie for her affection and her political loyalties.
Very few films successfully focus on the ethical complexities of social movement organizing (The Official Story, Matewan, and Mapantsula are rare exceptions; The Way We Were has some brilliant flashes along these lines, but then veers away from these themes all too quickly). We, the viewers, are initially drawn to the viewpoint of the charismatic political organizer, just as the protagonist is drawn to him and out of the restraints of traditional purdah. Far from painting the husband as a vile monster to revolt against, however, the husband encourages the increasing independence of the protagonist, and becomes the loving conscience of the film, even as it exposes the limitations of his apparent passivity.
As the attraction between the protagonist and the organizer mounts, so does the tempo and the tension of the political struggles in the village. As the protagonist learns more and more about the world beyond the secluded part of her palatial home, we, the viewers, begin to understand more and more the complexity of the cross-cutting tensions between: England and India, modernism and tradition, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, men and women, leadership and rabble-rousing, means and ends, and love and infatuation.
All this could have been ponderous or didactic, but it's decidedly not, and one of the wonders of the film is that the political issues are woven so deftly into the story of a believable unfolding love triangle. Most movies have a difficult time portraying any motivation for two characters to `fall' in love - this movie manages to portray changes in the relationships between all three main characters with such precision and intensity that I fully believed, and cared deeply, about each one.
The acting is extraordinary, and the cinematography, as is usual in Ray's films, is breathtaking, subtly accentuating the movie's themes of liberation and loss, and the interplay between the two.
Ray said his goal as a director was the same as Renoir's, to show that everyone has their reasons. As perhaps the most warmly compassionate of directors in all of world cinema, he succeeds brilliantly with this film.