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.
The second film in Criterion’s box set containing Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, Aparajito is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration of the film.
As most know the original negatives for the trilogy (and a number of other films by the director) were either severely damaged or destroyed in a fire in the early 90s. In restoring the trilogy, Criterion, with the help of the Academy Film Archive, went to those original negatives and saved what they could through a rather extensive and complicated process. For Pather Panchali they were able to use 40% of the original negative, the rest divided between two other sources. For Aparajito, Criterion was able to use 60% of the original negatives for the transfer. They used two duplicate negatives to fill in the missing spots, one from the Academy Film Archive and the other from the Harvard Film Archive.
As a whole the trilogy looks impressive on Blu-ray, but Aparajito probably edges out the other titles in overall quality. Damage still remains, which is unsurprising, but it’s not as heavy as I would have expected. Transitions between scenes present the most obvious damage, like heavy scratches, dirt, jumps, and stains, but the rest of the film looks rather good. Damage is primarily limited to vertical scratches, which are very faint, and some fading in the frame here and there. Nonetheless, on the whole the restoration work has been very methodical, and in reality very few problems remain.
The transfer itself is also very good. The image is incredibly sharp where the source allows (where the source is probably a limiting factor the image can look a little fuzzy) and detail is remarkable, allowing you to make out the fine textures in clothing, paper, and various exteriors. Film grain has been cleanly rendered and I didn’t notice any problems with macro-blocking or pixilation. Edges are clean and there are no artifacts of note. In the end, like the previous film in the set, it’s a gorgeous looking presentation, very filmic and beautifully restored.
Aparajito’s mono audio, presented in lossless linear PCM, is limited a bit by age and quality of materials, but I thought it still sounds pretty good. Dialogue and music are both flat and a bit tinny, but the track has been cleaned up nicely, and I didn’t notice heavy damage, clicks, pops, or drops.
The box set nicely covers the films within it, each disc presenting a handful of material about the trilogy and/or the film residing on the disc specifically. Aparajito’s supplements altogether seem to be more about 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 the films (though he focuses on Aparajito specifically) have many references that would be familiar to the Bengali culture, and there are certain symbols and actions that foreshadow key events. He also points out particular items and what they represent, particularly in terms of class, like the white handkerchief carried around 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 manages to pack in a lot.
Criterion then includes an audio recording featuring Satyajit Ray talking about the films, this one recorded in 1958 by Gideon Bachmann at the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar in Vermont, around the time that Pather Panchali was release in the States. Here Ray talks about how he first came across the novel, Pather Panchali, talks about its success, and then talks a bit about 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 really picks up when Ray talks about his country’s films, their formula, and the certain slick production values they have, at least in Bengali films. He even talks about the impact Bicycle Thieves had him. It’s a delightfully engaging discussion about the trilogy and filmmaking in India at the time. It runs 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 on the production of each film, though Pather Panchali receives the most time. It looks at difficulties Ray had in getting the first film made (he financed and filmed it over a period of 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 an amazing ability at keep continuity between shots, noticing and remembering things that flew by most others. It also ends with an audio recording of director Martin Scorsese talking about Ray’s films. It’s very thorough 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 the working methods of Ray, even getting a very personal, in-depth interview with the filmmaker where he talks about the Indian film industry and then 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 bigger budget works. There’s even a look at the posters for his films, which he has designed himself. It’s another wonderful, in-depth supplement, giving a better look at Ray’s working method.
Criterion has put together a nice set of supplements across the entire set, but on its own Aparajito’s supplements are surprisingly detailed and engaging. Some strong material has been put together here.
Another great disc in the set (which, as a whole, may be my favourite release from Criterion this year) it offers a wonderful presentation far exceeding my expectations, along with an excellent selection of supplements.