Wednesday 1 June 2016

The Unvanquished (Aparajito) (1957)

I am back from my voyage to the other side of the world and that means it is again time to write some movie reviews. I brought with me the Indian movie “Aparajito” and except for some plane movies that was what I managed to watch. That is a good thing really because it meant I had a good and eventful trip.

It is no secret that I have a troubled relationship with India. I do not understand that country and I understand the people less. Something that makes watching Indian movies in general rather confusing. However when Satyajit Ray made the Apu trilogy of which “Aparajito” is the second he employed the European Neorealist style rather that the traditional Indian ones and thereby opened the movie for westerners like me. It certainly helps, but there is still a lot to baffle the viewer here.

“Aparajito” takes up the story where “Pather Panchali” left it. The little family, Apu and his parents, has moved to a big city and are getting along decently well when Apu’s father dies. As the breadwinner, Apu’s father was pretty important for the family who must now move back to the countryside again. In the village Apu discovers a school and with the help his mother he enrolls. Fast forward a few years and we see that Apu is doing extraordinarily well in school. He is granted a scholarship and moves to the big city to further his study. This is particularly hard on Apu’s mother who finds herself entirely alone. Daughter and husband has died and the son is studying in a faraway city so now she is rusting away in loneliness, something you apparently can die from eventually, which is exactly what happens to Apu’s mother.

So, yeah, a continuation of the misery from the first movie.

Technically “Aparajito” appears to be a big step up from the first movie. Scene composition, lighting, cutting and even the acting is sharper now. Where “Pather Panchali” would often feel incredibly slow “Aparajito” keeps a much better pace helping me to stay interested. Mind you it is still a slow movie where very little is played out for dramatic effect, just sort of a portrait of everyday events that add up to the personal tragedy these people are experiencing. In a sense that is both the best and worst of Italian neorealism and “Aparajito” crosses that line where I get personally invested in these people, for better and worse (Italian movies of this era can generally be grouped into two groups, the good ones where I do get invested and the poorer ones where I do not).

There is that sense of realism here that makes this a window into real lives and not the staged ones it is obviously portraying. I always find that interesting and thank heavens there are no divine intervention or group dancing here. The flipside however is that reality was and is in India dismal and in my eyes weird. On a personal level I do not get these people’s motivations and their actions are often strange. That is the cultural overlay and involve religious elements and traditions and are very far away from my reality. When the movie manages to get below that layer into basic human emotions it does a much better job at engaging me and there are parts there that are really good.

I doubt that a movie about a guy who loses his parents to sickness and poverty is a movie I would take out for easy entertainment. Maybe my motivation should be to get subdued and reminded why I do not want to go to India and I do not really need a movie for that. Having said that this is not a bad movie. A punch in the stomach, yes, but a well-crafted example of neo-realism.


  1. One scene in this film that left me with that "I will never understand" feeling is where the father drinks Ganges river water on his sick bed. People's remains are thrown in there! Yuck!!! I've never really wanted to go to India. I don't think I could cope with the dirt.

    On the other hand, I love Ray's films. I can also enjoy Bollywood if it's not too stupid or too long.

    1. I noticed that one as well. Holy moly what were they thinking?! If he was not sick already he would certainly get there now.
      I have been there and it was actually worse than I expected. Oh, they treated me nice and all but the place freaked me out.

  2. A general question. Has watching these movies in order limited you because of having to watch a certain movie at a certain time?

    1. I do not really think so. The burden that I am forced to see a particular movie is offset by my slow pace. I watch other movies in between of my own choosing and I know I will eventually get to see all the movies on the list sooner or later. Taking the movies in order also forces me to watch movies I would not otherwise have picked and cherry picking movies would inevitably have left a pile of less attractive movies in the end. In this way I always have something to look forward to.
      This would certainly not be ideal for everybody, but a few years down the road I have to say it works perfectly for me.