The World of Apu Review
Closing Ray's Apu Trilogy, The World of Apu picks up with Apu as he finishes his studies and starts looking for a job. We quickly discover that despite Apu's intelligence, he doesn't seem to be cut out for the day-to-day rat race of Calcutta - we find him a few years later living in the same squalor we observed his family living in Aparajito. An old friend from university drops in to see him one day and seeing Apu's predicament he invites to follow him home for a weekend hoping to find him a job in his native village...
Though Ray had originally planned to only make two films about Apu, there was a keen interest from the audience to see a continuation to Apu's on screen life and, having directed a few different films, Ray set himself to work on the ultimate chapter of the trilogy. As one would expect for a film-maker as talented as Ray, he also defied all the rules that govern sequels and created the strongest film of the trilogy.
From the outset, Ray sets the film's focus by his treatment of Apu's condition - yes, he is incredibly poor but the socio-economic reasons for it, are of no present interest to him. This won't be a Ken Loach take on life in Bengal in the late fifties but something more akin to Da Sica's Bicycle Thieves (a film that "gored" Ray - that's a positive comment in case you're wondering!). As the title announces, the lead character shall be the sole focus of the film, with little else getting in the way of Ray telling his story. And this he does admirably. With the censorship in place in Bengal, even a kiss would not have been allowed on screen but, in part thanks to these limitations, Ray gives us some of cinema's most sensual scenes with no physical contact whatsoever - instead he chooses to show the husband finding one of his wives hairpins between the pillows, holds it lovingly in his hand and raises his eyes to look at his wife preparing breakfast - a perfect use of the more-is-less approach - why waste energy pulling off technical feats, when you can convey the message much better in a simple camera shot?
The plot in The World of Apu is also much more present than in the two first films in the trilogy - a concession to his huge Western following? - though one can hardly call the film plot-driven. Ray has lost little of his wonderful sequences which, though devoid of any plot element, add an extra layer of characterisation to the film. His clever use of imagery and symbolism frequently hark back to the first two episodes of the trilogy but, are thankfully subtle enough to not becoming too evident. The direction is also very neo-realistic - Ray used mostly untrained actors who give here an understated but perfectly realistic performance. Frankly, there's really nothing to fault in the film - some cultural aspects may seem slightly bizarre to a Western audience and the pace, though not really slow, will most likely befuddle the MTV generation but, when all is done and dusted, no viewer can fail to be moved or enchanted by Ray's magical demonstration that films should be a work of art.
The image and sound:
Both have been extensively restored by AE but both also exhibit the limitations of the source. The image is rather clean throughout though the occasional glitch occurs but these are relatively rare - some tracking lines do crop up from time to time but are digitally masked and their presence hardly detectable (cf. the second screegrab). The original aspect ratio of 4:3 is also respected. The sound is naturally mono but retains some crackle and hiss from the original recording though it sounds better than the first two DVDs.
The subtitles and menus:Still the same problem with some of the subtitles (capitalised Is and Bs tend to disappear when contained within italicised text) but bar that they seem to offer a good translation and can be turned off if one wishes. The menus are the usual simple but effective AE style.
The extras:On the final disc, we get a rather substantial set of extras than on the previous two discs though they are also riddled with spoilers and best avoided until one has watched the film. The background notes and biography are in line with the other two discs - in depth and well written by Ray's biographer, Andrew Robinson; we are also treated to another short excerpt from the BBC omnibus program but the icing on the cake is a Movie Masterclass on the World of Apu presented by Mamoun Hassan produced back in 1990 for Channel 4. The film is discussed over a little more than an hour with a group of film students and sifts through the imagery of the film and the various filming techniques used by Ray. Though the program looks rather dated (dodgy haircuts, a tendency to let things drag slightly), it does a very good job at digging a little further into the film and providing some interesting analysis.
Conclusions:The World of Apu is a particularly strong ending of one of World Cinema's best trilogy cycle - Kubrick, Kurusowa, Scorcese and many other tenors of modern cinema declared themselves to be fans and one can see why. Ray's work has the ability to convey the strongest emotions with a minimal amount of effort, bringing to the fore universal themes which are told in a highly personal fashion. The present triple DVD set, despite a few mild technical problems, are a fine piece of work from Artificial Eye and should feature in every film fan's collection.