By the time Apur Sansar was released, Satyajit Ray had directed not only the first two Apu films but also the masterpiece The Music Room, and was well on his way to becoming a legend. This extraordinary final chapter brings our protagonist’s journey full circle. Apu is now in his early twenties, out of college, and hoping to live as a writer. Alongside his professional ambitions, the film charts his romantic awakening, which occurs as the result of a most unlikely turn of events, and his eventual, fraught fatherhood. Featuring soon to be Ray regulars Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore in star-making performances, and demonstrating Ray’s ever more impressive skills as a crafter of pure cinematic imagery, Apur Sansar is a moving conclusion to this monumental trilogy.
The third film in Criterion’s box set for Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, Apur Sansar (aka The World of Apu) is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The new high-definition 1080p/24hz digital presentation comes from the 4K restoration of the film.
Apur Sansar is the only film in the trilogy that hasn’t been restored from any portion of the original negative: it sounds as though they were completely destroyed in the case of this film. In this case the transfer and restoration was created from a 35mm fine-grain positive and a 35mm safety duplicate negative. Despite this slight (very slight) drawback the presentation still looks incredible. Detail is sharp and textures look wonderful. Film grain is present, but never heavy, rendered nicely. Contrast is also nicely balanced, with smooth transitions in gray levels and fairly rich blacks. Encoding looks excellent and I didn’t detect any digital anomalies. As far as the digital transfer itself goes it looks very filmic.
Like the other films the restoration work has been quite thorough. Some damage still remains, limited mostly to fine scratches, a few bits of debris, thin tram lines, and some mild fluctuations, but on the whole it’s been cleaned up wonderfully and a majority of the film is clear of imperfections.
Like the other films in the set it looks wonderful, quite a marvel all things considered.
Apur Sansar comes with a lossless linear PCM mono track. It suffers a bit from age, sounding a bit flat and tinny, but the track has been cleaned up fairly well. Dialogue sounds fairly clear while music can sound a bit flat and edgy.
The box set nicely covers the films within it, with each disc presenting a handful of material about the trilogy and/or the film residing on the disc specifically. The supplements for Apur Sansar start with an interview with Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore. It only runs 15-minutes but is a fascinating piece no less, with the two talking about the experience of making their first film, Tagore being only 13 at the time. They both talk about working with Ray and what they did to prep for their roles, Chatterjee writing his own bio for Apu, and they talk about the authenticity of the film and its sets, while also sharing various stories, including the technical issues that arose.
We next get a piece on the trilogy, featuring the former head of the BFI, Mamoun Hassan. Entitled The Apu Trilogy: A Closer Look, it features Hassan offering a rather thorough examination of the trilogy as a whole, giving detailed analysis of Ray’s framing, how he introduces characters, the flow of editing, and how the visual language of the films can be broken down into “sentences and paragraphs.” He goes through each film, talking about particular scenes and sequences. It’s lengthy at 43-minutes but found it a very strong scholarly supplement that does make up somewhat for the lack of commentaries, an item that I’m surprised is missing from the set.
Criterion then includes footage from the 1992 Academy Awards where Ray received his honorary Oscar. Audrey Hepburn first introduces the director, going over his body of work, and then through satellite feed we see Ray (unfortunately bed ridden, looking quite ill) accepting his award. He recalls quite humorously how he used to write to directors asking for advice, though never received a response. It only runs a few minutes but it’s a wonderful inclusion.
The disc and the set then close with Restoring The Apu Trilogy, put together by ::kogonada. We get the option of viewing a “Short Version” or a “Long Version.” The “Short” version appears to be just a 3-minute promo for the theatrical release of the new restoration, giving a quick overview of the work. The “Long” version runs 12-minutes and gets more in-depth, providing a number of interviews and examples on the techniques used in repairing the negatives. We also get a number of before-and-after comparisons for both the visuals and the audio of the film (the audio, at least for Pather Panchali, was in terrible shape). It’s a nicely put together piece, thoroughly covering the fascinating process the films went through. It’s one of my favourite features to be found in the set.
Disappointingly there isn’t anything specific to this film and like the other discs the features aren’t that plentiful, but I still found them all rewarding and entertaining to go through.
Another impressive disc within the set. Like the other discs it delivers a surprisingly beautiful presentation and a great set of features, nicely closing off what is probably Criterion’s best release this year.