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Pather Panchali (1955)

Genre: Period Drama (India)

Starring: Uma Das Gupta, Subir Bannerjee

Directed By: Satyajit Ray (Aparajito The World of Apu)

Overview: This is the story of a young Indian girl, her family, their trials and tribulations in their poor Bengali household at the turn of the century.

Pather Panchali (Song of The Little Road) opens with a young girl, Durga, running through a neighbor's farm, stealing a few guavas, and taking them back to the old woman who lives with them. We quickly learn how impoverished this turn-of-the-century family is when their father, a poet and priest, is looking for work to feed the family and repair the run down house. Durga's mother soon gives birth to a second child, Apu, and from there, the majority of the film involves the relationship between Durga and her younger brother, Apu, played with incredible skill by Subir Bannerjee, as they experience life, pleasure and pain.
Pather Panchali is director Satyajit Ray's first feature film, and one that quickly landed him as the winner for "Best Human Document" at the 1956 Cannes Film festival. What it did for Indian cinema was to be the first independent film to receive international acclaim. Its roots, I've read, come from the Italian Neorealistic style, defined by Wikipedia as "characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors". I myself have not yet seen any of the listed champion films of that style which include Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero and Stromboli as well as '1001 Must See' listers Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. by Vittorio De Sica.  What Song of The Little Road does remind me of is American Neorealist film Killer of Sheep, and most definitely the French New Wave Les 400 Coups of François Truffaut - so much so like Les 400 Coups, that I found it just as entertaining, which was, sadly, not enough.

Let it not be said that this was not an important film in 1955, because it was one that was pivotal for India at the time. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful and gripping scenes - the monsoon, father coming back from being away, moments between Durga and old Auntie - but when looking at film from the entertainment perspective, one should not have to consider what innovations or importance a film has had in the past. For this reason, I would only recommend Song of The Little Road to fans of 'the study', be it Film study or Indian Culture, since most people want to be entertained. Talking about how important this film was in 1955 is in no way a selling point to the average moviegoer today, though it may be for those of us willing to suffer the honest hard work of an inexperienced film crew with a ridiculously small budget and main characters played by actors who have never made any film before or since.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 6 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 68% (Enough Road, But Not A Lot)
1001 Club Aftertaste:

I suspect that the next film in the trilogy, Aparajito (1956), had a much bigger budget, and with Satyajit having some directorial experience for this one, I expect it to be a more entertaining and better film technically, so I'm looking forward to it.

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