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The World of Apu (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 1, 2016

This was the one I was most looking forward to seeing again. It was one of my favorites by one of my favorite directors, and just missed being in my top 100 (it did find a home in my 101-250 list). I had fond memories of the film’s emotional power and Soumitra Chatterjee’s performance… not only his first with Satyajit Ray (there would be a dozen more) but his first ever.

With that kind of preamble, you can probably guess where this is going, if you haven’t already peeked ahead at my score. Previously I said Aparajito was my least favorite of the trilogy. Now it’s unquestionably this one. It’s the most problematic of them. We can start with Chatterjee. Although he is certainly charming and pulls off a few great moments, he is definitely not at his best at the start of his career. His performance often comes off as forced, especially when he’s called upon to laugh (we can blame writing in part for that, he’s made to laugh at things that aren’t very funny).

It’s difficult to discuss the movie’s other flaws without getting into spoiler territory. But there are two key relationship developments that seem to come too easily, and Apu’s character could be better defined, and frankly more likable. He does something that really makes you lose any sympathy for him. It can be justified, and obviously there’s nothing inherently wrong with a flawed protagonist, but it’s… well, it’s problematic. When I watch this movie, the little criticisms keep poking at me, even though I don’t necessarily think they ruin the film.

Of course, there’s a lot to like as well. There are powerful emotional punches. Chatterjee does have some terrific moments, and Sharmila Tagore (making her debut at age 12!) is wonderfully endearing. Subrata Mitra’s cinematography is simply stunning, there are breathtaking images. Shankar’s score is evocative and beautiful. And overall, it’s a good story that does interesting things with the themes of loss, soul-searching and redemption. But, sadly, I’ve lost some love for it. Rating: Very Good (85)

The World of Apu is replaced in my top 250 list with Yasmin Ahmad’s Sepet, which I recently revisited and fell even more in love with.


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