Satyajit Ray Arlene Croce - Essay

Arlene Croce

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Roughly] two-thirds of The World of Apu, with which Ray closes his trilogy, are well worth the trouble, and some of this is as fine, in its own way, as the best of Pather Panchali…. Ray is so thoroughly in command of his material that for the first hour or so the reality of people, of their differentiated and changing worlds, leaps unquestioned from the screen.

Looking back over this film and back over the trilogy as a whole, you see that it was chiefly this reality of persons and backgrounds that spoke to Ray from the start. Where he deals most directly with its substance, he produces great cinema; where he deals with the pre-arranged reality of a conventional screenplay, he lapses into a rather unaccustomed second gear; and where he deals with outright artifice, his technique becomes faintly spurious or, at the very least, arguable. This isn't the mere truism of film making it sounds. Bergman, for example, works best with just the opposite strengths.

As in the two previous films, nothing much happens in The World of Apu—which is to say, the events of the scenario are extremely few and not especially extraordinary. (pp. 62-3)

The absence from the trilogy of any intricately developed dramatic interest is not a relevant point of criticism. Ray has obviously aimed for a poetic-realistic chronicle of the evolution of a boy into a man—or, to use Ray's own term—a "social being." As we know, he has adapted his films from an enormously popular serialized novel which had impressed him with its authenticity as a picture of Indian life. His avoidance of the factitious is to be commended as long as the chronicle sticks to those elements in his source which mirror the untamed individuality of an identifiable life and time. But the uncomfortable truth is that the final portion of The World of Apu, in spite of the great sincerity, trust and taste with which it is filmed, looks like a fairly accurate reflection of the unexamined stock attitudes of Western biographical...

(The entire section is 841 words.)