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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Bengali PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
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Pather Panchali

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Satyajit Ray
1955 | 125 Minutes | Licensor: NFDC

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #783
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: November 17, 2015
Review Date: December 8, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

The release in 1955 of Satyajit Ray's debut, Pather Panchali, introduced to the world an eloquent and important new cinematic voice. A depiction of rural Bengali life in a style inspired by Italian neorealism, this naturalistic but poetic evocation of a number of years in the life of a family introduces us to both little Apu and, just as essentially, the women who will help shape him: his independent older sister, Durga; his harried mother, Sarbajaya, who, with her husband away, must hold the family together; and his kindly and mischievous elderly “auntie,” Indir—vivid, multifaceted characters all. With resplendent photography informed by its young protagonist's perpetual sense of discovery, the Cannes-awarded Pather Panchali is an immersive cinematic experience and a film of elemental power.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

What feels like a long time coming, Criterion releases Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy on Blu-ray. The first in the trilogy, Pather Panchali, is presented on the first dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. The new high-definition, 1080p/24hz presentation comes from a new 4K restoration.

As most know the original negatives for the Apu Trilogy (as well as for a number of other films by Ray) were severely damaged—if not destroyed—in a fire. Criterion, along with the Academy Film Archive, undertook an extensive restoration project for all three films and we see the fruits of that labor here. Coming from the at least three different sources (what could be saved of the original negative, a duplicate negative from the Academy Film Archive, and a fine-grain master from the BFI), Pather Panchali’s transfer and restoration is superb. The digital transfer itself is actually one of the better ones I’ve seen on a Criterion release lately (and the same can be said for the other titles in the set), delivering a very filmic look throughout. No compression issues were apparent and the film’s grain is nicely handled, no blocky patterns showing up. Edges are clean, gray levels and black levels look pretty spot on (for the most part) and the level of detail is shocking at times, remarkably rendering textures.

As to the print it shouldn’t be a shock that damage remains, and it is obvious, though primarily in vertical scratches and some minor pulsating in a few spots, with some of the transitions between scenes presenting jumps and heavy damage. There are also a couple of instances where it looks like frames are missing. In cases where the source is obviously less than ideal damage can get a little heavier and the gray scale shifts a little bit. Though these few scenes present some heavier, more glaring damage (again, looking to come from less than ideal sources), the majority of the film is in extraordinary shape. As I mentioned fine vertical scratches are the more common issue, but they don’t distract. The restoration work has been exceptional and it’s easy to forget the rough history this film has been through.

I was expecting something quite a bit worse, but, all things considered, the film looks remarkable and everyone involved should be commended.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Found on the disc for the third film in this set, Apur Sansar, a documentary on the film’s restoration shows the rough shape the audio for this film was in and it too had to go through a rather vigorous restoration. The end results are impressive in comparison to the condition the materials were in (you could barely register some of the dialogue) but I think the track is still limited by age and the equipment used, which, according to that same feature, was older, cheap equipment. The track is very flat and a bit tinny, with very little in the way of range. On occasion there is some faint background noise, but I didn’t detect any clicks, pops, or drops.

The clean-up job is very good, but ultimately it comes down to how the source materials were recorded and that’s ultimately what holds it back here.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The box set features a nice assortment of features spread out over the three discs, with supplements specific to the related film and then the trilogy as a whole. Pather Panchali’s supplements start out with A Long Time on the Little Road, which is a recording—made by Gideon Bachmann—of Ray reading from a 1957 essay he wrote on the making of the film. During the 14-minute recording Ray talks about his first day of shooting and his general nervousness that did ease over time, and his thoughts on how to obtain authenticity. He admits he thought it would be all easy, but once he got into the nitty-gritty of it and had to actually deal with the camera and the actors, things obviously became more challenging and weren’t as clear cut. It’s a wonderful first-hand recollection with plenty about the learning curve he experienced while making the film.

Criterion then includes a few interviews, starting with a brief 7-minute one with actor Soumitra Chatterjee. The actor actually plays Apu in the third film in the trilogy, Apur Sansar, and has nothing to do with Pather Panchali directly, but he talks about the popularity of the film and its source novel, and the impact the film had on him, chiefly in terms of acting.

Shampa Srivastava, who plays the younger Durga in the film (credited as Runki Banerjee), next talks for 16-minutes about working with Ray, who she keeps referring to as, more or less, that “large, beautiful man.” She gives an idea as to what it was like while making the film, but she also talks about working with her mother, Karuna Bannerjee, who plays the mother in the film. She also talks about how her mother handled her newfound fame, and how she was recognized pretty regularly thanks to the film. It’s an insightful and very funny interview, probably my favourite interview across the whole set.

Criterion then provides an interview with camera operator Soumendu Roy, the only crew member interview to be found on the set. It’s disappointingly short, but Roy gives a decent account of the production and how it got its funding, and also recounts shooting on location and dealing with the elements. A name that comes up in the supplements here and there when others are referring to Ray is Manik-da (there’s even a book about Ray that uses the name for its title). Looking up the literal translation of manik it comes back as “gem” or “jewel” (Google Translate gets more specific with “ruby”) but Roy actually explains the term here, suggesting it’s more of a term-of-endearment suggesting a “big brother,” which shows the admiration and respect everyone had for the man.

Criterion then includes a 6-minute excerpt from the documentary The Song of the Little Road, featuring an interview with musician Ravi Shankar. Shankar talks about first meeting Ray and the process in composing the music, coming up with certain themes, and then talking about how Ray worked it into the film. He also shares the story on the last time he met Ray. It’s a fine interview, though its presentation is fairly frustrating: for whatever reason the actual interview with Shankar is presented as a series of stills. At first I thought that maybe this was some way for Criterion to get around some sort of copyright/licensing issue, but looking up the documentary (which I have not seen obviously) it appears the whole thing is edited like this, even during interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese and Ismail Merchant. I found this aspect unnecessary and more distracting from what was being said.

This closes off the supplements specific to this disc.

I was frustrated somewhat by the last feature (in terms of editing/presentation) but the content and material is good, and the features on this disc overall give a nice bit of insight into the making of Ray’s debut feature. If the supplements here leave a bit to be desired, material found on the other discs (which get a little more academic in nature) make up for this.

6/10

CLOSING

The set as a whole is probably my favourite release from Criterion this year and Pather Panchali is a great way to open the set. The presentation is superb, almost just short of miracle really, and it will undoubtedly surprise both those coming to the film for the first time and those revisiting.


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