The Apu Trilogy
Runs through May 28
Starting Friday at Film Forum and through the end of May, you can take in one of the great multi-film stunts of cinema: Bengali director Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, which covers the life of a peasant boy into young adulthood, from country to city life, from high points through tragedies, from love through grief. The three films — 1955’s “Pather Panchali,” 1956’s “Aparajito” and 1959’s “Apur Sansar” — have all been painstakingly restored, their original negatives having perished in a fire some 25 years ago. They were, when they came out, instrumental in popularizing several kinds of cinema, not the least (but not the only) being international cinema, and the idea of India as a hotspot for exportable cinema.
There’s a lot to unpack in these three very different, but equally rapturous, films. Here are five ways of reading them:
As international art cinema
Non-American films don’t deserve to be read exclusively in terms of their relationship to America. And yet The Apu Trilogy, along with the films of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman, did help popularize the idea of not just cinema made outside our borders, but artistic cinema. They were so “new” in their foreignness, both in being made in India and in exuding a poetic approach to filmmaking, that they both alienated and bewitched initial American audiences. The New York Times’ then-critic Bosley Crowther — everyone’s favorite whipping boy for getting it wrong — hated “Pather Panchali,” and assumed his pan would kill the movie dead. It went and found an audience anyway, playing for months and thus helping to usher in an era of eggheaded moviegoing that continues, in some form, today.