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The Sun and the Moon: The Films of Satyajit Ray

Featuring a raft of rarities and restorations, this massive retrospective devoted to the great Bengali filmmaker shines a new light on one of the most important and influential bodies of work in international cinema.

"Not to have seen the films of Ray would mean existing in a world without the sun or the moon." — Akira Kurosawa

"One of the greatest post-war filmmakers.... There is no one to replace the maker of the Apu Trilogy, The Music Room, Charulata, and Days and Nights in the Forest — masterpieces of world cinema that transcended national boundaries and reached hearts and minds everywhere." — Derek Malcolm

"To discover or to revisit the world of Satyajit Ray is one of the supreme pleasures of the cinema. The ... years since his death give us the perspective to see more clearly that he was by any reckoning — not just for the cinema — one of the world's great artists." — Andrew Robinson

"Satyajit Ray's films can give rise to a more complex feeling of happiness in me than the work of any other director." — Pauline Kael

The cinematic event of the summer, this massive retrospective of one of the most important and influential bodies of work in international cinema includes a raft of restorations and rarities.

When Satyajit Ray died in 1992, the humanism that defined his work was largely outmoded, replaced by postmodernist irony and cinephilic knowingness. In the intervening decades, the rage for all things Bollywood has also helped to eclipse the Bengali art-cinema tradition established by such Indian masters as Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen. Intensifying that sense of loss was the widely lamented fact that at the time of his death, Ray's legacy was greatly inaccessible to us: many critics noted that Ray tributes were impossible because of the scarcity of good prints, a dire situation discovered when the producers of the Oscar telecast were gathering clips for Ray's honourary award. Long available mostly in wretched dupe copies or not at all, one of the most important bodies of work in cinema was in peril. Deteriorating negatives and laboratory fires complicated the already arduous worldwide search for printing materials, proving film restorer David Shephard's contention at the time: "It would be hard to think of another world-class film artist whose oeuvre hangs by such a thin thread."

In 1992, the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles heroically embarked upon the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project, a comprehensive program to restore all of the director's work. Collaborating closely with the Satyajit Ray Society, a group of Ray's former producers, the National Archives of India, the Merchant and Ivory Foundation, Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation and the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Academy restorations of Ray's essential films (complemented by restorations from the RDB Corporation of Calcutta) ensure a sublime experience during this rare retrospective.

Though he often rued the fact that only about a dozen of his films were ever widely shown in North America, Ray was never an ignored or underestimated master. From very early on his work was praised and prized both at home and abroad, and when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1992, it was merely the culmination of more than three decades of international acclaim. Indeed, he was accorded that most ironic form of recognition: the backlash of certain critics and directors in his homeland who found his shadow too long, his vaunted reputation in the West unwarranted. Chidananda Das Gupta wondered in 1980: "The depth and extent of the Western response to Ray often mystifies Indians; he is great, but is he that great?" The formidable actress turned parliamentarian Nargis Dutt frequently charged Ray with "distorting India's image abroad" by emphasizing its past and its poverty, ignoring the fact that Ray made many films about modern cosmopolitans in Calcutta. (Conversely, and ironically, Western critics often punished Ray when he deviated from tales of rural poverty, which actually account for very little of his oeuvre.) And like Akira Kurosawa, who held a similar august position in Japanese cinema, Ray was accused of being too "Western" in outlook and affinity.

In Ray's case, the problem is not one of valuation — he remains an unassailable great — but of analysis. Criticism of his work has been extensive and sympathetic, but it has also too long relied on a set of platitudes: Ray's humanism and universality, derived from Jean Renoir and Italian neorealism; his influence from the legendary Nobel Prize winner Rabindanath Tagore in his literary inclinations and polymathic abilities in music, painting, illustration, cinematography, design and calligraphy; the subtlety and sensitivity of his perceptions (what Michael Sragow calls his "luminous observation"); the Chekhovian refinement and ambiguity of his scenarios; the contemplative serenity and simplicity of his style; and the interplay between the domestic and the political (or, as the title of a late film had it, the home and the world). Late in his career, Ray expressed impatience with these adulatory formulas: "I am fully aware now, thanks to my Western critics, of the Western traits in my films. They have so often been brought to my notice that I can actually name them: irony, understatement, humour, open endings... It is not as if I find myself saying: 'Ah, now for a bit of British understatement.' They are used intuitively to best serve the needs of the subject."

This is not to say that these aspects do not in fact determine and distinguish Ray's cinema, merely that they have too long obscured other considerations, among them asperity, modernism, satire, moralism, politics, nativism (his films were almost all made for a Bengali audience), and Ray's place in Indian as well as international cinema. (For an excellent discussion of the latter, see Chandak Sengoopta's article "Art Without Frontiers? Satyajit Ray and the Constraints of Universality," available online.) To cite but one example, The Music Room has been frequently characterized as slow, rapt, and hypnotic, but though those terms are certainly appropriate, they look past the film's eroticism, its peculiar narrative structure, its Gothic ending, and the pronounced artifice of the back-projected horse ride, as counterfeit as the controversial one in Hitchcock's Marnie. (This artifice reappears in The Expedition, when Narsingh imagines himself as a Rajput warrior on horseback.) The skepticism, political sting and bitter, even bleak satire of the Calcutta Trilogy (comprising The Adversary, Company Limited and The Middleman), and Ray's ventures into Brechtianism and genre filmmaking (the ghost story in Three Daughters, the detective thriller in The Golden Fortress and The Elephant God) all tend to be repressed in the monist reading of Ray as a subtle miniaturist and humanist.

Certainly, Ray's aversion to "political cinema" and the narrative strategies of cinematic modernism (his sympathy for the French New Wave extended to Truffaut but not Godard), suggest that he can safely be considered a traditionalist. But as with Roberto Rossellini (another obvious and acknowledged influence on Ray), it may perhaps be more profitable to examine Ray as one of cinema's great modernists, the better to question the received wisdom about his work. Is his style truly so transparent and intuitive? Is his world view as ambiguous and complex as it has been made out to be, or is it imbued with a rather stern moralism? In his feminist emphasis on traduced, persecuted, and fallen women, can he be situated as a confrère of Mizoguchi, whom he greatly admired? And what is his importance in Indian cinema, where he appears to have played the roles of both revolutionary and reactionary? It is a measure of Ray's consummate art that it continues to demand such analysis.

— James Quandt

Presented in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

About the Satyajit Ray Preservation Project

The Academy Film Archive's Satyajit Ray Preservation Project is an ongoing effort to preserve and restore Ray's entire filmography. It began in 1992, after the producers of the Oscar telecast, who were gathering clips for the presentation of Ray's Honorary Award, discovered that there were very few prints or video masters of Ray's films in the United States, and that they were incomplete and in poor condition. The Academy decided to create a catalogue of the surviving elements of all Ray's films to assess whether any were in danger of being lost. The final report was chilling, and prompted resolute action.

For its preservation efforts, the Academy has collaborated closely with the Satyajit Ray Society; a group of producers who worked with Ray; the National Archives of India; the Merchant and Ivory Foundation; the Film Foundation; and the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This teamwork has ensured that every element that still exists can be accessed to make the best restorations possible. To date, the Academy Film Archive has preserved eighteen of Ray's feature films and one short subject.

Pather Panchali

Pather Panchali

A worldwide sensation upon its release and a sanctified classic of international art cinema, the opening chapter of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy finds the eponymous hero at age six, as he apprehends the beauty and cruelty of the world around him.
Aparajito

Aparajito

The least-known but best film of the Apu Trilogy, this second chapter follows Satyajit Ray's young hero as he moves to the city of Benares, where he grows from a youth into a man as he faces death and the dissolution of his family.
The World of Apu

The World of Apu

The moving, heartbreaking, ultimately uplifting final film in the Apu Trilogy chronicles Apu's surprising marriage, the tragedy that befalls him and his young bride, and his eventual emotional and spiritual rebirth.
Days and Nights in the Forest

Days and Nights in the Forest

Four young careerists from Calcutta are unexpectedly forced to confront their complacency and callowness during a weekend idyll in the countryside, in this superb chamber drama that ranks among Satyajit Ray's greatest achievements.
Kanchenjungha

Kanchenjungha

Satyajit Ray's first film in colour focuses on a wealthy and entitled patriarch who finds his formerly secure world crumbling around him over the course of a single afternoon during a family holiday.
Kathleen O'Connell on Charulata

Kathleen O'Connell on Charulata

Prior to the screening of Satyajit Ray's Charulata, University of Toronto Lecturer Kathleen O'Connell examines Ray's status within both Indian and world cinema, and his profound influence from the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Deliverance preceded by Pikoo

Deliverance preceded by Pikoo

Two late short works by Satyajit Ray.
Mahanagar

Mahanagar

Satyajit Ray's Dickensian epic follows an uneducated young woman who finds unexpected success as a door-to-door saleswoman when her husband loses his job.
Devi

Devi

A gentle young woman in nineteenth-century Bengal becomes convinced by her devoutly religious father-in-law that she is the reincarnation of the goddess Kali, in Satyajit Ray's intoxicating moral tale.
The Inner Eye: Four Shorts by Satyajit Ray

The Inner Eye: Four Shorts by Satyajit Ray

Three of Ray's short documentaries are capped off by his delightful comic allegory Two.
Three Daughters introduced by Michael Pogorzelski

Three Daughters introduced by Michael Pogorzelski

The Director of the Academy Film Archive introduces the stunning 35mm Academy restoration of Satyajit Ray's masterful trilogy of tales.
The Chess Players introduced by Michael Pogorzelski

The Chess Players introduced by Michael Pogorzelski

The Director of the Academy Film Archive introduces the Academy restoration of Satyajit Ray's brilliant, Chekhovian historical drama.
The Elephant God

The Elephant God

Detective Feluda returns in Satyajit Ray's sequel to The Golden Fortress, in which the intrepid sleuth is hired to investigate the attempted theft of an invaluable gold statuette of the god Ganesh.
The Home and the World

The Home and the World

A late-career triumph for Ray, this splendid adaptation of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's 1916 novel chronicles a love triangle that pits an idealistic but fatally complacent husband against a charismatic revolutionary who is campaigning against British imperialism.
Branches of the Tree

Branches of the Tree

A dying patriarch looks to his four variously unworthy sons to carry on his legacy, in the penultimate work by Satyajit Ray.
The Hero

The Hero

A film star travelling to an awards ceremony aboard the Calcutta-Delhi express reveals more than he should to a young female interviewer, in Satyajit Ray's delightful skewering of the Bengali film industry.
The Kingdom of Diamonds

The Kingdom of Diamonds

Goopy and Bagha return in this marvellous, music-filled sequel to their first adventure, where they become the leaders of a revolt against a despotic ruler.
The Stranger

The Stranger

Satyajit Ray's remarkably personal final film, about a middle-class household that is descended upon by a potential impostor, was hailed by critics as a valedictory work of classic serenity, subtlety, and beauty.
Company Limited preceded by Rabindranath Tagore

Company Limited preceded by Rabindranath Tagore

The second chapter of Satyajit Ray's Calcutta Trilogy is preceded by his profound documentary tribute to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
The Music Room

The Music Room

Regarded as Satyajit Ray's King Lear, the director's brilliant fourth feature relates the story of a wilful, impoverished aristocrat who squanders the last remnants of his former fortune to stage a grand musical evening in his decaying mansion.
The Expedition

The Expedition

Greeted as a buried treasure when it was shown at the Museum of Modern Art's preservation film festival, this fast-paced tale about a cynical, headstrong taxi driver who falls into the vortex of the underworld was Satyajit Ray's biggest box-office success in his native Bengal.
The Middleman

The Middleman

Unable to find work, a gifted and idealistic university graduate falls into the role of an underworld go-between, in the bitterly satirical closing chapter of Satyajit Ray's Calcutta Trilogy.
The Adversary

The Adversary

A former medical student attempts to navigate between the compromises of the professional world and the dogmatic certainties of young, pro-communist activists, in the first film in Satyajit Ray's Calcutta Trilogy.
Distant Thunder

Distant Thunder

The far-away carnage of the Second World War slowly and tragically begins to make itself felt in a remote Bengali village, in this long unavailable masterpiece that ranks among Satyajit Ray's most important works.
An Enemy of the People

An Enemy of the People

A respected physician becomes a pariah when he campaigns to close a polluted holy site that is spreading contagion through his town, in Satyajit Ray's adaptation of the classic play by Henrik Ibsen.
The Coward and the Holy Man

The Coward and the Holy Man

A terrific double bill of two short features — one a brilliantly incisive and ironic tale of adulterous love, the other a hilarious skewering of the "guru cult" — that reveals Satyajit Ray's great range.
The Golden Fortress

The Golden Fortress

The fearless Detective Feluda becomes embroiled in a race to recover a hidden treasure, in Satyajit Ray's delightful and visually extravagant comedy thriller.
The Philosopher's Stone

The Philosopher's Stone

A middle-aged bank clerk discovers a magic stone that turns base metal into gold, in Satyajit Ray's delightful comic allegory.
The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha

The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha

Two tone-deaf troubadours are swept up in an adventure of warring kingdoms, magic slippers, spies, princesses, and dastardly villains, in this sparkling musical-comedy-fantasy that was Satyajit Ray's biggest domestic hit.