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SONGS OF SORROW: SATYAJIT RAY’S APU TRILOGY

SHORTLY AFTER the death of SATYAJIT RAY in 1992, a trove of materials related to the great Bengali director’s Apu trilogy (1955–59), universally acknowledged as a summit of world cinema, was assembled in London in preparation for a restoration of the three films. But a fire at the film laboratory in July 1993 burned all of the original negatives to varying degrees, and the project had to be abandoned. As decades passed and digital technologies advanced in leaps and bounds, the Criterion Collection (in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles) began to explore the possibility of completing the restoration. This month, after years of intensive research followed by painstaking physical repairs to and digital scanning of the damaged negatives (supplemented, where necessary, by archival prints), Janus Films is releasing the meticulously—even miraculously—restored trilogy.
 
To mark this momentous occasion, Artforum asked TIFF Cinematheque programmer JAMES QUANDT, who organized a major retrospective of Ray’s films for the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, to consider the Apu trilogy’s place within the director’s work half a century after the films’ completion. We are also pleased to present a previously unpublished interview with Ray (the transcript having only recently been unearthed, serendipitously, from our archives) conducted in Calcutta in October 1989 by Artforum publisher ANTHONY KORNER.

Satyajit Ray, Aparajito (The Unvanquished), 1957, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 109 minutes. Adolescent Apu (Smaran Ghosal).

SATYAJIT RAY’S APU TRILOGY, comprising Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1957), and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu, 1959), is a Bengali bildungsroman chronicling the early life of Apu, a boy from an impoverished Brahmin family who moves with his parents from their rural village to the holy city of Benares, then alone to Calcutta, where he attends university, marries, and ends up wandering the countryside after his beloved wife dies in childbirth. Though long celebrated as a summit of the Indian master’s neorealist lyricism, the triptych is not as unassuming and transparent as has traditionally been claimed. This was something Jean-Luc Godard seemed to recognize when, near the end of chapter 2A of his magnum opus, Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98), he inserted into his stuttering montage of clips and images from such films as Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966) and Charles

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