Articles by

<Jessica Loudis>

05/06/15 6:27am
Pather Panchali, courtesy of Janus Films; Aparajito, courtesy of Film Forum via Photofest; Apu Sansar, courtesy of Janus Films

The Apu Trilogy: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956), Apu Sansar (1959)
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Opening May 8 at Film Forum

Pather Panchali, the first installment in Satyajit Ray’s “Apu Trilogy,” was first screened in the US in 1955 as part of a MoMA exhibition about ornamental art in India. The film was received positively but passively, and it wasn’t until the following year, when Ray was invited to screen it at Cannes, that the director became an international sensation, drawing comparisons to Jean Renoir (with whom he had worked on The River several years earlier) and winning the inaugural “Best Human Document” award at the festival.

Ray had spent three years on the film before its release, adapting the story from Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s canonical Bengali bildungsroman, and relying on notes and sketches in lieu of a script. Pather Panchali, very simply, is a masterpiece. Shot in a richly saturated black-and-white and set to an original score by Ravi Shankar (who, like Miles David with Elevator to the Gallows, devised the music quickly while watching a rough cut), the film centers on a poor rural family living in their ancestral village, gradually focusing more and more on Apu, the second child and only son. Events unfold languorously, and nature seems to set the pace—time is marked through rapturous sequences of monsoon rains and the slow deterioration of the family home—though modernity is visible on the periphery. In one of the film’s most famous scenes, Apu and his sister run through a field of kash flowers to watch a train slicing across the landscape; it’s an omen of things to come, and a motif that echoes across the ensuing films. (It was also the first scene Ray shot for the film.) Ray was deeply influenced by Vittorio De Sica, and the subtle rhythms of village life are given equal weight alongside the cataclysmic events that befall the family.

Though Ray never intended to make a sequel to Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Apur Sansar were released within the next four years, extending the family story and whittling away the narrative to that of just Apu, who chooses to forego the legacy of priesthood and pursue his education. The shots of the holy city of Benares in Aparajito are stunning in Janus Films’s 4k restoration debuting this month, as are those of the cramped alleyways of Calcutta in Apur Sansar, which begins with Apu as a young writer living in student housing, and sees him fall in love and come to terms with the sudden death of his young wife. Released in 1959, the film visually and spiritually anticipates the 60s, leaving Apu as a still-young man presented with the choice between a rootless future or a return to tradition. Taken as a whole, these quietly riveting films present a masterful portrait of a young man’s coming of age and India’s own, as they move from the village to the cities. With their new restorations, more than a decade in the making, Janus has not only given an enormous gift to cinephiles, they’ve made these films new again, and in showcasing their depth and exceptional beauty, reaffirmed them as classics.

02/25/15 9:05am
photo courtesy of Radius TWC

The Hunting Ground
Directed by Kirby Dick
Opens February 27

Academia is a fraught business with few major sources of income. Aside from tuition fees, for many universities, big money comes from alumni donations and athletics. These relationships are extremely lucrative and equally complicated, as director-producer team Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering demonstrate in The Hunting Ground, their powerful and upsetting documentary about campus rape. The vast majority of alumni donations are tied to Greek life (in 2013, fraternity alums gave more than $60 million to their alma maters), and at powerhouse athletic schools, head coaches make far more than college presidents. So viewers perhaps shouldn’t be shocked that universities are frequently unwilling to acknowledge claims of sexual violence, a significant percentage of which are linked to frat brothers and student athletes. But they will be. At a moment in which stories of campus rape are echoing across the media, The Hunting Ground is the most cogent and comprehensive look yet at how it happens and is mishandled on a systemic level.

The film loosely tracks two former University of North Carolina students who were sexually assaulted in their freshman year and follows them as they unsuccessfully try to get the university to take criminal action, ultimately filing a Title IX complaint against the school. Their accounts of administrators eager to place blame on them (the “What were you wearing?” approach) are disconcertingly similar to those of students at Berkeley, Harvard, and the University of Tulsa, and the case for this being a standard response is bolstered by other testimonies—from decorated academics denied tenure for advocating for sexual assault victims, and by a former Notre Dame security guard who resigned out of frustration after years of watching the administration refuse to take action against perpetrators. Between disturbing case studies—there’s the Heisman-winning football player who had multiple sexual assault accusations swept under the rug by a local police force, the frat whose national nickname is “Sexual Assault Expected”—and infographics that make liberal use of university promotional videos, what emerges is an administrative culture that tacitly accepts sexual violence against women, and a campus culture that sometimes actively encourages it. The Hunting Ground isn’t starting this conversation, but it will go far in framing the debate.

01/14/15 12:12pm
Photos courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center


In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund
January 14-22 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center


In interviews about the inspiration for his masterful Force Majeure, a deadpan psychodrama about a crisis of masculinity set at a fancy French ski resort, director Ruben Östlund is fond of citing two studies. The first found that couples are much more likely to divorce after experiencing an airplane hijacking, and the second that, on average, men survive maritime disasters at a much higher rate than women. From there, the film’s premise: while on vacation in the Alps, a father abandons his family when an avalanche plummets towards the restaurant where they’re having a meal. The screen goes white, but it turns out to be a false alarm, and Tomas spends the rest of the trip reckoning with his reaction.