Satyajit Ray William S. Pechter - Essay

William S. Pechter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

That [Distant Thunder] falls short of Ray's best work is probably true enough, and worth saying. No less worth saying, however briefly and belatedly, is that I've seen no other film this year or last which seems to me to approach it.

[What] the film is about is less [the famine it depicts] than the transformations wrought by that famine on the lives of one couple. Characteristically, the principals aren't some neo-realist-style impoverished everyman-and-woman but a Brahmin teacher and his wife, accustomed by their caste to privilege, and taking deference as their due. It would have been easy to have made these characters, the man especially, more sympathetic…. And it would have been easy, also, to have set the film in some expressively ravaged and barren landscape rather than the film's verdantly beautiful one, and to have photographed it in stark black and white instead of sensuous color. But this is a film of distant thunder, in which the first words, said by the woman of some passing bombers, are, "How beautiful! Like a flight of cranes!"—a film about a world that's full of death, but a world in which death comes not with sudden violence so much as by stealth: stealing up on one in barely perceptible increments.

Distant Thunder has its faults. Though exquisitely delicate when it keeps to the intimate scale of the man and wife, it can be perfunctory and uninspired (montages of newspaper headlines) in sketching the larger social movements in the background…. (p. 78)

William S. Pechter, "Altman, Chabrol, and Ray" (copyright © 1976 by William S. Pechter; reprinted by permission of the author), in Commentary, Vol. 62, No. 4, October, 1976, pp. 75-8 (and to be reprinted in his Movies plus One, Horizon Press, 1981).