the cloud-capped star (ritwik ghatak, 1960)

This is the seventeenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 7th annual challenge, and my third time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", and last year's at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21"). Week 17 is called "Parallel Cinema & New Indian Cinema Week":

Though not exactly the same movements, in the interest of availability, I've combined the two into one week.

From Wikipedia:

"Parallel cinema, or New Indian Cinema, was a film movement in Indian cinema that originated in the state of West Bengal in the 1950s as an alternative to the mainstream commercial Indian cinema.

Inspired by Italian Neorealism, Parallel Cinema began just before the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave, and was a precursor to the Indian New Wave of the 1960s. The movement was initially led by Bengali cinema and produced internationally acclaimed filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Tapan Sinha and others. It later gained prominence in other film industries of India.

It is known for its serious content, realism and naturalism, symbolic elements with a keen eye on the sociopolitical climate of the times, and for the rejection of inserted dance-and-song routines that are typical of mainstream Indian films."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Parallel or New Indian Cinema film.

This was a good challenge for me, because I am woefully uneducated about Indian cinema. I've seen a handful of Satyajit Ray movies and a Bollywood movie or two, but I had never heard of New Indian Cinema, and didn't know any of the notable directors outside of Ray. I have no idea if The Cloud-Capped Star is indicative of the work of Ritwik Ghatak, or Parallel cinema in general, but it's an impressive movie on its own.

The Cloud-Capped Star reminded me of many other films. The heroine, Neeta, played by Supriya Choudhury, a legend in Bengali cinema who was new to me, suffers so much she could have been the central figure in a Lars von Trier movie. Neeta is too kind, too willing to put others ahead of herself. Ghatak often uses close-ups that seem like they came from silent movies. The faces tell us so much, even when the character is not speaking, but the acting styles are modern, not overdone as can be the case in silents. Only a small portion of the film takes place in the city, but when it does, it is reminiscent of the way real locations were used in the French New Wave:

Also, Ghatak gets eerie passages by his use of sound. If shooting in a natural setting seems "real", his use of sound is often surreal:

All of this may remind us of other movies, but the combination is unique. The Cloud-Capped Star is engrossing on many levels, and an eye-opener into the world of Bengali cinema beyond Satyajit Ray.


by request: aparajito (satyajit ray, 1956)

This is the ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 9 is called Ray, Ray, Ray, or Wray Week:

One of my favorite running bits, this challenge is a superficial as it seems. There's little that ties these films together, except for the inclusion of folks with similar names. If for nothing else, it allows for a nice range of selection, so finding something you're interested in watching shouldn't be too hard.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by and/or starring Nicholas RaySatyajit RayRay Winstone, or Fay Wray.

P.S. I know Satyajit's is technically pronounced like "rye", but just shhhjustgowithitshhh.

Yes, it takes me forever to get to requests. I keep a list ... it's pretty long ... and eventually I'll get to them all. Aparajito wasn't really a request. It dates back to when Phil Dellio, Jeff Pike, and I did a Fifty Favorite Films project on Facebook. At the time, I told myself I was going to watch all of the movies I hadn't seen that were on Phil or Jeff's list. I've done pretty well over the years ... I only have two more to go on each list. In Phil's case, that's really 1 1/3 to go, because one of his 50 was the Apu Trilogy. A few years after the project, I finally saw the first film in the trilogy, Pather Panchali, and now, more than four years later, I've seen the second. At this rate, I'll get to the third film in 2024.

I said about Pather Panchali, "It falls into the category of 'admired more than loved'. Maybe the languid pace gave me too much time to think, but I wasn’t as drawn in emotionally as I expected." The first part of Aparajito, which picks up soon after the first film, has a similar feel. After the father dies, there is some new tension, as the mother needs to figure out how to continue the lives of her and her son. When Smaran Ghosal takes over the part of Apu from Pinaki Sen Gupta when Apu reaches adolescence, the film changes more than just the actors. Apu goes to school, which begins a separation from his mother, and later goes to Kolkata to further his studies, leaving his mother to live alone. Karuna Banerjee brings a soulfulness to the mother ... her sad eyes tell an infinite story on their own. And Ray isn't afraid to milk the emotion, which means I was finally drawn in to that side of the tale. Aparajito is a big story about tradition and progress, told on an intimate level as the story of a mother and her son. Ray doesn't exactly pick a side ... you can't stop progress. But we feel the mother's sadness as equal to the pleasures Apu finds in a larger world.

Ray uses long takes, but the scenes are often short, as if we were learning the story of these people in a piecemeal way. In the second half of the movie, I finally started understanding why the films have such a high reputation. #581 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Among the movies people chose to meet the challenge were Johnny Guitar (N. Ray), The Music Room (S. Ray), Sexy Beast (Ray W.), and King Kong (F. Wray).


geezer cinema: 1917 (sam mendes, 2019)

1917 is a movie with a trick. It's a technical trick, and it isn't always clear that it serves the picture as well as a more ordinary approach might. But the trick is so well done that you can't help but admire it, even though, paradoxically, the film works best when you forget about the trick.

That trick is to make 1917 appear to be shot in one take. You can't help but notice it at the beginning, when the two heroes are making their way through a long trench (1917 is a World War I story). But as the heroes encounter increasingly dangerous happenings, you occasionally forget about the one-take angle. I don't want to say the movie is at its best in those moments ... the technical achievements really are remarkable. But what raises 1917 above the level of a novelty is the acting, in particular that of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as the heroes. There is plenty of war horror, but Chapman and especially MacKay are the human element. That is what makes 1917 more than a trick.

1917 is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The cinematography award will surely go to Roger Deakins, and the film is worthy of many of the other Oscar categories. The narrative draws us in, and we really want the end to resemble a happy one. The movie is often hard to watch; it's not exactly entertaining, although this is appropriate for a war movie. But after two hours, we feel like we deserve a little something as we leave the theater.

What I especially liked is the way the trickery is human rather than CGI. You know that real people pulled this off. It's a bit like what makes Fury Road so much better than other recent action pictures.

World War I was one of the stupidest and most brutal wars, even given that all wars are stupid and brutal. 1917 doesn't stop to notice this ... no historical context is provided, and a lot of the brutality lies on the ground as the heroes make their trek. It might have been a better movie if such context were at least hinted at. Certainly it would be different. But the accomplishment of Mendes, Deakins and the rest isn't to be denied.