Aparajito

Part of a multi-title set | The Apu Trilogy

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Synopsis

Satyajit Ray had not planned to make a sequel to Pather Panchali, but after the film’s international success, he decided to continue Apu’s narrative. Aparajito picks up where the first film leaves off, with Apu and his family having moved away from the country to live in the bustling holy city of Varanasi (then known as Benares). As Apu progresses from wide-eyed child to intellectually curious teenager, eventually studying in Kolkata, we witness his academic and moral education, as well as the growing complexity of his relationship with his mother. This tenderly expressive, often heart-wrenching film, which won three top prizes at the Venice Film Festival, including the Golden Lion, not only extends but also spiritually deepens the tale of Apu.

Picture 9/10

The second film in Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Aparajito, also receives a 4K upgrade, presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.37:1 on a triple-layer disc. The 10-bit SDR 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation is sourced from the same restoration Criterion’s 2015 Blu-ray uses. A Blu-ray replicating that one is also included to provide a 1080p presentation of the film alongside the release’s special features. With most of the negatives destroyed in a fire, only 60% of the restoration is sourced from them; the rest of the film is filled in using two 35mm duplicate negatives.

Similar to the 4K presentation for Pather Panchali, the 4K presentation for Aparajito is a delightful surprise, particularly considering the condition of the print materials. While I anticipated a modest improvement over the Blu-ray, the enhancements are significant, notably in detail clarity and grayscale expansion.

While the Blu-ray version still holds up well, its encoding is unquestionably rough compared to the 4K presentation, drastically improving this aspect. The film's grain is now rendered much cleaner, enhancing the delivery of finer details and textures. The improvements in grayscale are also substantial, with blending appearing much smoother, resulting in a more natural photographic look. The blacks also appear richer, and the shadows reveal more detail.

The print still shows some wear, scratches, and marks popping up (heavier during transitions) and some fading in places. Contrast can also look off when jumping to what I assume are scenes sourced from the alternate duplicate negatives, with the blacks looking a bit heavier.

That’s all to be expected, though, and very easy to ignore since the digital encode is so strong. It’s a lovely presentation.

Audio 6/10

I’m pretty sure the lossless PCM monaural soundtrack is the same one used for the Blu-ray, with the notes seeming to confirm that. Dialogue and music can again sound a little tinny with a narrow dynamic range, but it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into restoring this, as no heavy damage remains.

Extras 8/10

Aparajito’s supplements are all found on the included Blu-ray disc. Supplements are spread across the three discs in the set. The ones included with this title focus more on Ray’s film language, influences, and working method and starts with The Small Details, an interview with film writer Ujjal Chakraborty. Though the films were praised at the time for being “universal,” Chakraborty points out how they have many references that would be familiar to Bengali culture, including symbols and actions that foreshadow crucial events. He also points out particular items and what they represent, particularly regarding class, like the white handkerchief carried by the “fat boy” (as Chakraborty calls him) and how that would tell the local audience his stature in society. The interview runs only about 11 minutes, but it’s an excellent academic addition and packs in a lot.

Criterion then includes an audio recording featuring Satyajit Ray talking about the films, recorded in 1958 by Gideon Bachmann at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar in Vermont when Pather Panchali was released in the States. Here, Ray talks about how he first came across the novel Pather Panchali, the film adaptation's success, and how its sequel, Aparajito, didn’t do nearly as well. This led him to make a couple of different films (including a comedy) before he would start the third film. It’s a fascinating discussion, but it picks up when Ray talks about his country’s films, their formula, and the slick production values they have, at least in Bengali films. He even talks about the impact Bicycle Thieves had on him. It runs for about 14 minutes.

Criterion then includes a new video essay by Andrew Robinson called Making the Apu Trilogy: Satyajit Ray’s Epic Debut. Mixed with photos, clips, and archival interviews (including with actor Karuna Bannerjee, Apu’s mother in the film), it gives a very extensive overview of the production of each film. However, Pather Panchali receives the most attention, while the other films fall slightly to the wayside. It looks at the difficulties Ray had in getting the first film made (he financed and filmed it over the years), a period where he worked a little on Jean Renoir’s The River (Renoir becoming a mentor to the aspiring filmmaker), and pays a bit of attention at the time between Aparajito and Apur Sansar. There are some interesting little tidbits of info here, including, for example, the actor who plays “Auntie,” Chunibala Devi, required a daily supply of opium and, despite her age, had a fantastic ability to keep continuity between shots, noticing and remembering things that flew by most others. It ends with an audio recording featuring director Martin Scorsese talking about Ray’s films. It’s comprehensive and fascinating, making for a brisk 38 minutes.

The supplements then close with a 1967 episode from the Canadian program The Creative Mind. The 29-minute episode looks at Ray's working methods and features a very personal, in-depth interview with the filmmaker, where he talks about the Indian film industry and how his films differ. He also talks about the construction of his films, from casting (he looks for “faces,” not necessarily actors) to all the design work that goes into his settings, with discussion on what it’s like moving from independent, self-financed films (like Pather Panchali) to big-budget works. There’s even a look at the posters for his movies, which he designed himself.

Engaging and insightful, this is still the most substantial collection of material in the set.

Closing

As with the Pather Panchali, the new 4K edition for Ray's Aparajito offers a stunning improvement over Criterion's previous Blu-ray edition.

Part of a multi-title set | The Apu Trilogy

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca Amazon.co.uk

 
 
 
Directed by: Satyajit Ray
Year: 1956
Time: 110 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 784
Licensor: NFDC
Release Date: January 02 2024
MSRP: $124.95  (Box set exclusive)
 
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-66
1.37:1 ratio
Bengali 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: None
 
 The Small Details, a new interview with film writer Ujjal Chakraborty   Audio recording from 1958 of a conversation between director Satyajit Ray and film historian Gideon Bachmann   Making “The Apu Trilogy”: Satyajit Ray’s Epic Debut, a new video essay by Ray biographer Andrew Robinson   The Creative Person: “Satyajit Ray,” a 1967 half-hour documentary by James Beveridge, featuring interviews with Satyajit Ray, several of his actors, members of his creative team, and film critic Chidananda Das Gupta