Satyajit Ray’s debut feature and the first instalment of what came to be known as the Apu Trilogy, Pather Panchali is still something to wonder at: a simple story of country folk told with the effortless beauty, drama and humanity which seems beyond the grasp of most Western directors. The plot is nothing more than a string of ordinary events centring on the experiences of Apu, the youngest member of a small family eking out an existence in a ramshackle Bengal village. With its timeless images infused by a lyric wonder that always seemed to escape the Italian neo-realists – the two children gazing in awe at their ancient grandmother sitting under the tree where she has suddenly and peacefully died, or racing across a field of flowers to capture the magical romance of a passing train – Pather Panchali tells a story that has been told in many languages, and presents no problems to either those who like it or those who don’t. Ray’s narrative methods sometimes veer from the episodic to the linear. What doesn’t change in his remarkably natural way with symbolism, his eye for the visual poetry of both raw nature and industrial squalor, and his faith in the human ability to grow with experience.
Black and white.