MoMA's Titus I theater looked like a gathering for New York filmmakers and artists on Monday night: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, Jim Jarmusch, Laurie Anderson, Hal Willner, Gay Talese, and others, many of whom had already seen the Apu Trilogy as Satyajit Ray's masterwork is called. They were there to see part 1, PATHER PANCHALI (Song of the Little Road), in a new 4K restoration. Based on books by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee, the films have their own dramatic story, involving a fire that destroyed the negative, and a painstaking restoration by hand of charred film, sprocket by sprocket. The result is now released by Janus Films in its rich black and white, and one of the great epics about a boy and his family in rural Bengal.
The premiere was its second at MoMA, 56 years apart. Satyajit Ray's son Sandip Ray told the story of his father's making the film for $38,000. The original MoMA premiere had no subtitles, which seems impossible to imagine for the success of a film in Bengal language in New York City. But with Ravi Shankar's music, the film could almost be a silent movie. Depicting this bildungsroman of Apu in a poor and proud village, the story is simple, the acting stunning, the characters unique. Shampa "Runki" Banerjee, the actress who plays Apu's sister, also attended last week's premiere, a bit shy to address the large MoMA audience. The trilogy opens at Film Forum this week.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.