Not rated, but like the first movie in The Apu Trilogy, a complete bummer. My kids could totally watch this. (Remember, Olivia reads really well. Henry would have no clue what is going on.) But then I'd have to talk about what death is and why parents keep dying. Technically, nothing objectionable if you don't mind dealing the fragility of life.
DIRECTOR: Satyajit Ray
I guess the moral of the story is "Never leave for any reason or your family is going to die." Yeah, it's spoilery. But spoilery in the sense that the entire first movie is dealing with unfair death and that theme hasn't been ignored just because Apu is going off to school.
Aparajito is a tough film again. I had some friends of mine who said that they couldn't get into the movie and that makes a bit of sense. The movie, which now deals with Apu as an adolescent, continues his almost cinema verite journey through life. I'm not used to seeing kids in Criterion movies behave so much after Francois Truffaut made me fear French children in his Antoine Doinel films. I'm going to have to talk about the plot because there isn't much of a plot, much like the first film. Again, Ray is using these novels as character studies and as analyses of the struggles of growing up. The tone of the movie is instantly different from the first film simply because of the setting. While this definitely is a progression from the first film, it automatically feels very different setting it in the city. Poverty still haunts Apu's family, but it seems less soul crushing than it did in the first one. Auntie and sister are gone, but in the context of a city filled with either equally poor or poorer families, Apu's family seems very functional. What Ray and the filmmakers explore, however, is the vulnerability of woman here. The overarching theme of the fragility of life is still constantly in the forefront of this movie, but watching Apu's mother deal with her daily life, fearful of the dominating presence of men. What is interesting is that Ray doesn't really hammer the point home, but gives a realistic context for her fears. She shies away from her upstairs neighbor, a larger man who may or may not have untoward intentions towards the frail mother. His gestures are always kind towards her, but she sees his presence as a genuine fear in the absence of her husband. Apu must act as an intermediary, even though that Apu himself is a fraction of her size at this point in the movie. (There is a jump in time and Apu grows up at one point.) But this is a very telling moment. Part of her change feels like her cultural position as a woman in this society and part of it feels as the result of a mother who has been hurt one time too many.
But this is where I get critical of a character. This isn't even a criticism of a story so much as I have real concerns about Mom's neediness. I am actually apologizing to a fictional character right now because I know that there were a ton of circumstances going into her choices. Apu's mother is weirdly selfish in this movie, but I get why. Apu is this angel of a child, especially compared to the French kids of other films, who tries his best to move on with life. He is self-motivated and is way too hard on himself. His calling is to go to Calcutta and be the best student he can possibly be. I'm being super-Western in my criticism of this character because I know that, as the son of a priest, Apu is on track to being a priest himself. (He does actually become a priest for a modest part of the movie.) It is clear that her character wishes to support her son, but allows her own needs to cloud her desire for him to go. Instead, she plays both sides, which is wholly unfair to Apu. She hits him and gets mad at him for committing himself fully to his studies. Maybe, as critical as I am of her, this is my favorite part of the movie. I've never really seen a character who is morally doing the right thing, but also experiences the pangs of selfishness, especially when it comes to her children. Every time we see the good parent, we see the joy in the success of a child. But there are moments where you want to be you and the mask of parenthood is quite the burden. I'm far from Empty Nest Syndrome, but I can imagine the sadness of knowing that my children are only a small part of my life. Apu's mother's feelings are valid, but they are also infuriating. Perhaps it is a bit melodramatic for her to die of sadness. That is very Bronte of her. But her physical ailment reflects the turmoil of her soul. She is dying of sadness because she has lost everything. I just don't see how Apu can manage. He is in a constant state of dealing with death.
The odd thing about death in these movies, and I joked about this idea earlier, is that it is always the fault of another family member's absence. Auntie died in solitude. Sister died when father was gone too long. Father died because mother wasn't there to ensure that he stayed in bed. Mother died because Apu was away at college. For dramatic effect, it definitely has merit. By adding guilt to an already emotionally complex situation, the character has to be left scarred and questioning his choices from that moment. The problem is that Apu is given this heavy burden when he really does go out of his way to take care of his mother. He's a teenage boy by the end. He does hang out with his friends instead of always being with his mother, but he is also empathetic enough to know when his choices affect his mother's well-being. He has a strong moral compass, aware of when he is hurting others with his choices, but mother's silence is a form of torture to him. Mother hides her illness and tests his love by assuming he would come back to see her without a request to do so. Is the movie criticizing the idea of "breathing out"? Is the entire third movie about Apu's wrestling with his own sanity? No one could possibly deal with this burden. But I guess it's unfair as a white male who weirdly identifies more with Apu than mother, despite the fact that I have more in common with Mom at this point, that I can't understand her loss in the same way that I understand Apu's potential. Her constant fear of her son's death ironically leads to her own. The movie never really addresses her fear for Apu's safety, but considering the people she has lost in such a short time, that has to be a concern. She is truly alone. She has her peers, but that's all flash and no depth for her. For a guy who really used to get lonely, who am I to throw stones?
The movie is shot again in the same method as the first one. I really had a hard time keeping focused on the slow pace of the first movie. The same one has the same pace, but I was prepped for this one. Perhaps the only thing that really makes this one move a bit better is the change of location and time. The first film has Apu as a baby to a child, but these changes seem pretty minor for the storytelling sequence. In this one, Apu goes from being a child to being someone leaving for college. It almost is like introducing a new character because his education is drastically different in this moment and he goes from being carefree to being intensely responsible. But the movie doesn't have much of a plot, which is its own intention. Rather, this is an examination of life in 1920s India. Apu is an avatar for the lives of many children dealing with poverty and opportunity. The movie never really gets critical of social structures, considering that all of the characters are steeped in poverty. Rather, it is simply matter of fact, acknowledging that there is a problem but embracing that problem. It is sad, but there is joy. I talk about death and poverty and the movie is extremely depressing, but it doesn't feel like a bummer through. Apu has happy moments with his mother and and his friends. That's what might make the death the more impactful. It is a contrast and we know how much Apu loses in these moments. His life is hard, but it isn't preachy-hard. He lives his life and doesn't gripe.
I like these movies, but I wish I liked them more. The pacing is very painful for me at times and I like slow movies. I don't know if the third movie is supposed to wrap things up for me, but I have weirdly high expectations for it, which is never a good thing. I do think it is going to be slow, but that's okay because I'm nearly done. I dig them, but I have a hard time recommending them for everyone.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.