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DVD Review: ‘Eclipse Series: Late Ray’ (Criterion Collection)

Director Satyajit Ray’s much-loved Apu Trilogy is still awaiting the Criterion Collection treatment. But the company has made a generous number of Ray's other films available for streaming on Hulu Plus, and after producing  handsome editions of mid-career highlights The Big City and Charulata last year, Criterion has released an Eclipse edition of Ray’s final three works. Ray is best known for The Apu Trilogy, which follows the coming of age of a young man. Eclipse Series 40 - Late Ray presents the autumnal work of an elder statesman of cinema. Throughout…

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Summary : The valedictory work of an elder statesman of cinema.

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The Stranger (Criterion Collection)

The Stranger (Criterion Collection)

Director Satyajit Ray’s much-loved Apu Trilogy is still awaiting the Criterion Collection treatment. But the company has made a generous number of Ray’s other films available for streaming on Hulu Plus, and after producing  handsome editions of mid-career highlights The Big City and Charulata last year, Criterion has released an Eclipse edition of Ray’s final three works.

Ray is best known for The Apu Trilogy, which follows the coming of age of a young man. Eclipse Series 40 – Late Ray presents the autumnal work of an elder statesman of cinema. Throughout his career, Ray documented a changing India, and over the course of decades his observant eye on this society never faltered. The films in this set reflect the kind of tension between tradition and the modern world that Ray revisited time and again, always with a gentle eye to the humanity of his characters, even if they be in turmoil.

Adapted from the 1916 novel by Rabindranath Tagore, The Home and The World (1984) is the work of a veteran filmmaker who conveys the depths of his characters with a stately efficiency. The film is a love triangle not unlike Charulata. Where that film had scenes that were a visual tour de force, the humanity of the characters were sometimes lost in stagey scenes of men talking about politics ad nauseum. The Home and the World doesn’t pull out the cinematic stops that make Charulata a visually striking film, but its lush, warm cinematography and static camera lets his stellar cast do the work. Set in the early 20th century, the film depicts Indian politics that will be unfamiliar to most Western viewers, but his rich characters drive along the competing ideas without being reduced to a mouthpiece for ideology. Nikhil (Victor Banerjee) is a modern thinker who feels his traditionally minded wife Bimala (Swatilekha Chaterjee) should be more emancipated, so he introduces her to his old friend Sandip (Ray regular Soumitra Chaterjee). The emotional entanglements are inevitable and natural, and Ray handles them deftly over the course of an over two-hour film. Ray was 82 at the time, and as steady as the film appears, it was not without tumult: the director suffered a heart attack during production.

Enemy of the People (1989) is the weak link in the set, a didactic, wooden adaptation of a work by Henrik Ibsen. After his heart attack during the making of The Home and the World, doctors forbade him from making movies or operating a camera. After working on Indian television and on a documentary about his father, Ray’s return to serious film making came with doctor’s orders to shoot indoors and use static camera setups. Soumitra Chaterjee is again on board as a doctor who discovers his town’s water supply is contaminated. The static camera affects the film, but such limitations were used to fuller advantage in Ray’s final film a powerful study of deception and of film making, simple on the surface and accomplished on a low budget, but finely layered.

In The Stranger (1991), Anila Bose (Mamata Shankar) receives a letter that a long-lost uncle Manomohan Mitra (Utpal Dutt), who had left his family 35 years ago, is coming to visit. The prodigal uncle admits that he may as well be a stranger to his niece, but Anila is ready to welcome him as the real deal. Her husband Sudhindra (Deepankar De) is more skeptical. The film plays out on its interior sets like a play performed in he intimacy of your living room, Ray achieving a comfort with his actors that is a safe setting to depict the discomfort and uncertainty of this charming visitor of uncertain credentials. Beautifully shot and acted, The Stranger is a fine valedictory statement from one of the masters of cinema.

 

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.