Starring: Karuna Bannerjee, Uma Dasgupta, Subir Banerjee
Director: Satyajit Ray
Running Time: 125 mins
Pather Panchali is an Indian film about a small boy growing up in a rural Bengali village, while his father leaves town in search of work and a better life for his family.
This isn’t an easy-going film by any means, but with beautifully elegant directing from Satyajit Ray, and a grounded and emotional story that looks at the struggles of those living in poverty in rural India, Pather Panchali proves an engaging watch, and even though it doesn’t quite hit home on a consistent basis, it’s still a strong drama from beginning to end.
Let’s start off with the thing that makes this film a really impressive watch, and that’s the directing. With a clear passion and understanding for the story at hand, Satyajit Ray gives an immersive and convincing look into rural life, with a down-to-earth and grounded portrayal of daily trials and tribulations that gives the film’s setting a realistic and striking vibe throughout.
In similar fashion to Alfonso Cuarón’s recent release Roma, Pather Panchali is a film that never tries to be showy or melodramatic when portraying its setting, instead pushing ahead with a more grounded portrayal that focuses on the little details of life, something that not only makes it a more convincing film, but also a deeply immersive one.
As a result, you get a great understanding of what really matters to the characters here, allowing you to form a strong emotional connection with them that makes the film all the more engrossing, and while its story certainly isn’t the world’s most unpredictable, there are moments of stunning emotional drama that really hit hard thanks to the fantastic directing.
As well as the direction, the performances are another strong part of the film that help to make it such an immersive and engaging watch. Once again, none of the performances ever tend towards melodrama or excessive melancholy, with the actors instead portraying their characters as entirely normal people, with normal concerns and normal emotions, something that proves vital in keeping the film’s story so grounded, allowing it to develop to the impressive and ultimately emotionally hard-hitting extents that it does.
So, there’s no doubting that Pather Panchali is an elegant, intimate, grounded and deeply genuine piece of cinema, but for me, all of that does unfortunately play into its biggest flaw, the fact that it’s just not that emotionally stirring.
Again, I’m glad that the film refuses to turn to melodrama, something that many similar portraits of poverty and daily struggles like Kes do, but the fact remains that I just didn’t find Pather Panchali the world’s most enthralling film, failing to carry the strongest moments of drama and intrigue through the entire runtime.
It’s an undoubtedly engrossing and down-to-earth portrait of the trials of daily life in a small rural community, but its slow pacing unfortunately breaks the film up into a series of dramatic episodes that, while engaging, don’t quite come together as a sumptuous and consistently powerful watch.
Overall, Pather Panchali is an elegantly directed film featuring wonderful cinematography and a passionate, down-to-earth and immersive portrayal of rural life, furthered by fantastic performances that allow you to form strong emotional connections with the characters, however it’s not quite the world’s most enthralling watch, featuring stunning drama and emotional power in bursts, but not on a consistent basis throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.