Cover: “The Apu Trilogy”, a sensitive journey through the life of a young Bengali by Satyajit Ray

Cover: “The Apu Trilogy”, a sensitive journey through the life of a young Bengali by Satyajit Ray


We must never miss an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the masterful work of Indian Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), and even more so in his inaugural “Apu Trilogy”, which is re-emerging in the new clothes of a restoration digital. Because there is undoubtedly what is best about cinema at play: a sensitive form crossed by profound currents of life.

In fact, this polyptych brings together an entire educational novel: three parts which focus on childhood, adolescence, then on the entry into the life of a boy born poor in a village in Bengal. . The whole has lost nothing of the aesthetic shock produced in its time by the first part, La Complainte du Sentier (1955). At home, this masterstroke opened the way for a realistic school facing the hegemony of Hindi entertainment and its sung fantasies; abroad, a window on a world, Bengali rurality, which had never hit the screens.

However, it is indeed fiction that “The Apu Trilogy” comes from, and even doubly so: Satyajit Ray, from a high Bengali lineage, evokes a childhood at odds with his own, by adapting the autobiographical novel of his compatriot Bibhouti Bhushan Banerji (1894-1950), a period story dating back to the 1920s. However, the young filmmaker, who had attended the filming of Le Fleuve (1951), by Jean Renoir, in Calcutta, has not forgotten the example of the master, no more the conquests of Italian neorealism. He combines these influences and pushes them even further, merging the drama into the luxuriant forms of nature, daily rituals of Bengali sociability (eating with the hands, greeting elders by touching their feet, adjusting a sari), of the languid course of time and climatic variations.

The Lament of the Path recounts the birth of Apu, son of a Brahmin, and his first years, but even more the birth of the world which happens every time a child’s gaze is placed on it – and we no longer count the close-ups of his face with large wide black eyes, eager to swallow up the expanse. While the toddler frolics with his elder sister, Durga, his father, dreaming of literary glory, carries like a burden the ancestral home where he has returned to settle, with the sole income of reciting funeral rites. The mother (a magnificent character, lovingly tough) is responsible for the household economy, an impossible equation with so many mouths to feed (including a toothless old bitch of a grandmother), and without the resource of the orchard ceded to the neighbors for debt. , subject of incessant litigation.

Myriad of contrasts

The relationship with the sister is focal here. Apu plays, but above all he sees the prejudice of her feminine condition closing in on Durga: wiping out maternal abuse, enduring the village opprobrium, soon withering away. From the garden of childhood with a thousand paths, which bursts into the sensual black and white of Subrata Mitra in a myriad of contrasts, we move step by step towards the fantastic interior: the old hovel devoured by nature becomes a Gothic setting where, with the monsoon wind, indigence, distress, decrepitude rush in.

“The Undefeated” (1956), by Satyajit Ray.

After the unified world of childhood comes, with L’Invaincu (1956), the moment of adolescence, that of sinking our teeth into the fruit of knowledge. After a stopover in Benares, a mystical city standing like a hallucination on the banks of the Ganges, the boy works, gets to go to school, then wins a scholarship to study in Calcutta, the big harsh and industrious city. But the separation from the mother creates another kind of chasm. Finally, in The World of Apu (1959), we find him as a young man (in the guise of Soumitra Chatterjee, Ray’s favorite actor), an aspiring writer in the painless misery of an attic (the father’s curse catching up with him? ). Married overnight, he discovers true, but ephemeral, love with his young wife, Aparna (sublime Sharmila Tagore, daughter of the poet Rabindranath Tagore).

Apurba Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) in “The World of Apu” (1959), by Satyajit Ray.

This will be the case for the entire trilogy: it is the loss that punctuates the entry into the life of the young man; it is the only thing that allows us to grow, that propels us towards the next age. Through his frames restoring the beings fully in their environment, his camera movements of never ostensible elegance, which allow the hypnotic rumors of the world to infuse, the director takes the full measure of these successive annihilations. In Satyajit Ray, if time covers a promise that is never exhausted, it also doubles as a leprosy, which attacks everything, corrupts matter and memory, instills bitterness. “The Apu Trilogy” tells us nothing else: to grow up is to consent, even in one’s flesh, to universal entropy. Thus, it will be in the eyes of his son, recognized late, that Apu will understand the essential: everything must be erased so that everything can finally start again.


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