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The Brilliance of Satyajit Ray

January 17, 2014 - August 31, 2014

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"Ray has invariably preferred the intimate story to the grand epic, and is the poet par excellence of the human-scale, life-sized comedy or tragedy of ordinary men and women, journeying, as we all journey, down little, but unforgettable roads."—Salman Rushdie

Before the “international art house circuit,” before “Third World Film,” before “slow cinema” and “rural realism,” there was Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. More than a decade has passed since Ray was honored with a retrospective, and in that time cinematic trends have made his work even more necessary to see again.

Born in Calcutta in 1921 into a family of prominent Bengali intellectuals (Ray’s grandfather was a writer and publisher, while his father wrote children’s tales and satirical stories), Ray first worked in an advertising firm as a visual designer, creating covers for books and even film posters. Founding the Calcutta Film Society in 1947 fueled his desire to enter filmmaking, and in 1955 he debuted with Pather Panchali, part of his Apu trilogy. While this neorealist, rural-set trio of films launched Ray’s career (an infamous midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival awakened the world to his talents), the great director seemed equally at home in a wide variety of genres and settings: period tales of urban elites, chamber pieces filled with music and song, documentaries on poets and artists, even children’s fables and detective stories. More than a filmmaker, he was also a composer, visual artist, intellectual, theorist, and even illustrator of children’s tales.

“Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in a world without seeing the sun or the moon,” wrote Akira Kurosawa. Ray passed away in 1992, leaving behind a legacy of thirty-six films and countless short stories, sketches, illustrations, and even musical compositions. Our series, which continues through August, includes nearly all of his films. Discover—or rediscover—this legend of cinema.

—Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer

About the preservation

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 catalog 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.

Friday, January 17, 2014
7:30 p.m. Pather Panchali
Satyajit Ray (India, 1955). 35mm Restored Print! Introduced by Josef Lindner. Ravi Shankar provides the score for Ray’s debut film, a tale of a young boy in an impoverished Bengal village. The film won a special prize at Cannes: Best Human Document. (122 mins)

Saturday, January 18, 2014
7:30 p.m. Aparajito
Satyajit Ray (India, 1956). 35mm Restored Print! Introduced by Josef Lindner. The second film in Satyajit Ray’s beloved Apu Trilogy follows Apu’s family as they travel to the holy city of Benares along the banks of the Ganges. “Graceful, insightful, and moving” (SF Chronicle). “The characterization of Apu lies in the heart of modern India” (SFIFF). (106 mins)

Sunday, January 19, 2014
4:45 p.m. The World of Apu
Satyajit Ray (India, 1958). 35mm Restored Print! Introduced by Josef Lindner. Part three of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy finds Apu as an adult, and in love. "In essence the film is a love story so fresh and spontaneous that one feels Ray created it entirely out of his own spirit, as if it were the world's first love story" (Pauline Kael). (103 mins)

Thursday, January 23, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Bicycle Thief
Vittorio De Sica (Italy, 1948). De Sica’s masterpiece of a father and son searching the streets of Rome for their stolen bicycle is considered one of the greatest films ever made, and cited by Satyajit Ray as an inspiration. “An allegory at once timeless and topical” (Village Voice). (93 mins)

Saturday, January 25, 2014
6:30 p.m. The Music Room
Satyajit Ray (India, 1958). 35mm Restored Print! A turn-of-the-century aristocrat whose funds and holdings are dwindling continues to spend money on lavish concerts in his music room, in Ray’s rueful, Chekhovian masterpiece, “one of the greatest films in the history of Indian cinema” (Kent Jones). (100 mins)

Sunday, January 26, 2014
3:00 p.m. Ray: Life and Work of Satyajit Ray
Goutam Ghose (India, 1999). Noted Bengali filmmaker and documentarian Ghose was handpicked by Satyajit Ray’s widow to create this moving eulogy and tribute to the great director, which acknowledges his influences and draws inspiration from Ray’s original red notebook of sketches, first drafts, and musings. (105 mins)

Sunday, January 26, 2014
5:10 p.m. The River
Jean Renoir (France, 1950). IB Technicolor Print! Based on a novel by the author of Black Narcissus, Renoir’s wise, warm Technicolor masterpiece follows several young girls coming of age on the River Ganges. A young Satyajit Ray served as a location scout. “The artist, medium, and location combine, as though effortlessly, to produce an experience of surpassing loveliness” (NY Times). (99 mins)

Sunday, February 2, 2014
4:45 p.m. Devi
Satyajit Ray (India, 1960). 35mm Restored Print! Introduced by Dilip Basu. A teenage Sharmile Tagore delivers one of her most riveting performances in Ray’s tale of faith and obsession, set in rural Bengal circa 1860. A wealthy landowner offers his beautiful daughter-in-law as an incarnation of the goddess Kali. (93 mins)

Sunday, February 9, 2014
3:00 p.m. Three Daughters
Satyajit Ray (India, 1963). 35mm Restored Print! In honor of the centenary of the writer Rabindranath Tagore’s birth, Ray made this feature based on three Tagore stories. (171 mins)

Saturday, February 15, 2014
5:45 p.m. The Big City
Satyajit Ray (India, 1963). 35mm Restored Print! Ray sets his ironic and humorous eye on the plight of the Bengali middle class, caught amid the changing moralities of urban life. Focusing in particular on the role of women in this metamorphosis, Ray tells a story that is both minutely particular to Calcutta and universally recognizable. (135 mins)

Sunday, February 23, 2014
2:00 p.m. The Expedition
Satyajit Ray (India, 1962). 35mm Restored Print! The great Bollywood superstar Waheeda Rehman stars in one of Ray’s most atypical films, a commercially successful noir melodrama filled with taxi drivers, drug smugglers, and prostitutes that became the director’s most popular film in his native Bengal. (150 mins)

Thursday, February 27, 2014
7:00 p.m. Rabindranath Tagore
Satyajit Ray (India, 1961). Two essential Ray documentaries on his greatest influences: Rabindranath Tagore, on the Nobel Prize–winning poet and painter, and Sukumar Ray, on the director’s father, a writer and critic. (84 mins)

Thursday, March 6, 2014
7:00 p.m. Kanchenjungha
Satyajit Ray (India, 1962). Ray's first film in color is a tale of manners and mores played out amid a Himalayan landscape as dramatic as the conflicts on display. “Ray’s most creative and detailed look at contemporary India’s cross-cultures” (Albert Johnson). (102 mins)

Saturday, March 8, 2014
6:00 p.m. Charulata
Satyajit Ray (India, 1964). Restored Print! Introduced by Dilip Basu. Based on a Rabindranath Tagore novella, Charulata follows one woman’s romantic and intellectual yearning in late nineteenth-century India. Ray's personal favorite of his works. (122 mins)

Sunday, March 9, 2014
3:00 p.m. The Hero
Satyajit Ray (India, 1965). Restored Print! A sharp-witted, serious young journalist finds herself stuck on a train with a movie star in Ray’s surprising examination of “intellectual” and “popular” cultures. (122 mins)

Sunday, March 23, 2014
3:00 p.m. The Coward with The Holy Man
Satyajit Ray (India, 1965). Restored Prints! These two films were intended to screen as a double bill and show a side of Ray unknown to most: populist, funny, willing to try anything. The light-hearted The Coward focuses on a bizarre love triangle, while The Holy Man is a comic exposé of the folly of the superstitiously devout. (140 mins)

Saturday, March 29, 2014
6:30 p.m. Days and Nights in the Forest
Satyajit Ray (India, 1970). Imported Print! Ray’s most overtly Renoir-ish film, and probably his masterpiece. Four young men from Calcutta spend a few days in the country, and their youthful arrogance gets them into a series of disastrous and often hilarious adventures. "A major film by one of the great film artists, starring Soumitra Chatterjee and the incomparably graceful Sharmila Tagore" (Pauline Kael). (115 mins)

Sunday, March 30, 2014
5:15 p.m. The Adversary
Satyajit Ray (India, 1970). Imported Print! Created amid the growing social unrest and political violence of India (and the world) post-1969, The Adversary is Ray at his most openly political, yet also at his most compassionate. "Ray’s funniest, most piercing film" (Pauline Kael). (110 mins)

Sunday, April 6, 2014
3:00 p.m. The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha
Satyajit Ray (India, 1968). Restored Print! Ray weaves elements of folklore, classical and popular music, dance, and drama into this fairy tale in which two village boys set out on a host of uproarious adventures, and in the end are beautifully rewarded for their work for peace. (132 mins)

Saturday, April 12, 2014
6:15 p.m. Company Limited
Satyajit Ray (India, 1971). Restored Print! A shrewd satire on the American-styled business world of Calcutta."One of Ray's best films" (David Robinson, London Times). (112 mins)

Saturday, April 19, 2014
6:00 p.m. The Middleman
Satyajit Ray (India, 1975). Restored Print! A black comedy shot in the early days of Indira Gandhi's "emergency rule," The Middleman reveals a Calcutta of rampant unemployment, declining basic services, and politically inspired violence. Won Ray the West Bengal Oscar equivalents for best film, direction, and screenplay. (134 mins)

Saturday, July 12, 2014
6:00 p.m. Pather Panchali
Satyajit Ray (India, 1955). 35mm Restored Print! Introduced by Dilip Basu. Ravi Shankar provides the score for Ray’s debut film, a tale of a young boy in an impoverished Bengal village. The film won a special prize at Cannes: Best Human Document. (122 mins)

Sunday, July 13, 2014
6:00 p.m. Aparajito
Satyajit Ray (India, 1956). 35mm Restored Print! The second film in Satyajit Ray’s beloved Apu Trilogy follows Apu’s family as they travel to the holy city of Benares along the banks of the Ganges. “Graceful, insightful, and moving” (SF Chronicle). (106 mins)

Saturday, July 19, 2014
6:15 p.m. The World of Apu
Satyajit Ray (India, 1958). (Apur Sansar). 35mm Restored Print! Part three of Ray's Apu Trilogy finds Apu as an adult, and in love. "In essence the film is a love story so fresh and spontaneous that one feels Ray created it entirely out of his own spirit, as if it were the world's first love story" (Pauline Kael). (103 mins)

Thursday, July 24, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Philosopher’s Stone
Satyajit Ray (India, 1957). (Parash Pathar). 35mm Restored Print! A bank clerk discovers a stone that turns steel into gold in Ray’s delightful foray into comedy, delightfully tweaking Calcutta middle-class mores like a Bengali Preston Sturges. “One of the most sophisticated and effective satires produced by world cinema” (Sight & Sound). (111 mins)

Saturday, July 26, 2014
6:30 p.m. Days And Nights in the Forest
Satyajit Ray (India, 1970). Imported Print! Ray’s most overtly Renoir-ish film, and probably his masterpiece. Four young men from Calcutta spend a few days in the country, and their youthful arrogance gets them into a series of disastrous and often hilarious adventures. "A major film by one of the great film artists" (Pauline Kael). (115 mins)

Sunday, July 27, 2014
5:00 p.m. Sikkim
Satyajit Ray (India, 1971). 35mm Restored Print! This portrait of the remote Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim, nestled between Tibet and Nepal, is one of the most remarkable documentaries on Himalayan culture ever made. With shorts, The Inner Eye, on the blind artist Binod Behari Mukherjee, and Bala, on the dancer Balasaraswati. (111 mins)

Thursday, July 31, 2014
7:00 p.m. Distant Thunder
Satyajit Ray (India, 1973). (Ashani Sanket). In this searing drama, Ray focuses on one of the twentieth century’s greatest man-made disasters—the 1942 Bengali famine, where over five million people died. (102 mins)

Saturday, August 2, 2014
5:30 p.m. The Golden Fortress
Satyajit Ray (India, 1974). (Sonar Kella). Recommended for ages 8 & up. Introduced by Tipu Purkayastha. A child who suffers from flashbacks to an ancient time journeys to Rajasthan in search of a fortress of gold and aided by the master detective Feluda! Ray’s little-seen yet unforgettable combination of children’s adventure tales and detective fiction is the master at his most entertaining, pulpiest best. With short, Two. (126 mins)

Saturday, August 9, 2014
6:00 p.m. The Elephant God
Satyajit Ray (India, 1977). (Joi Baba Felunath). 35mm Restored Print! Recommended for ages 8 & up. Introduced by Tipu Purkayastha. Ray’s detective hero Feluda (The Golden Fortress) is back on the case, this time in the holy city of Benares! A wonder, both for Ray’s take on pulp fiction and his images of the teeming byways of one of the world’s most atmospheric and fascinating cities. (120 mins))

Sunday, August 10, 2014
6:00 p.m. The Chess Players
Satyajit Ray (India, 1977). (Shatranj Ke Khilari). 35mm Restored Print! Two oblivious landowners in nineteenth-century India take refuge in games of chess while the world around them changes course in Ray’s first historical film, shot in a gorgeously rich Technicolor. “Every gesture, every detail…is intended to delight your eye”(The Nation). (120 mins)

Saturday, August 16, 2014
6:15 p.m. The Kingdom of Diamonds
Satyajit Ray (India, 1980). (Hirok Rajar Deshe). Goopy and Bagha are back in Ray’s giddily inventive, colorful, and music-filled version of the children’s film. Here, our heroes find themselves in a diamond-rich realm ruled by a tyrant who forces everyone to rhyme! (118 mins)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Home and the World
Satyajit Ray (India, 1984). (Ghare Baire). Rabindranath Tagore’s classic novel of 1905 Bengal provides the setting of Ray’s examination of one woman’s search for independence, and a nation’s fight for freedom. (140 mins)

Saturday, August 23, 2014
6:30 p.m. Deliverance
Satyajit Ray (India, 1988). (Sadgati). A village landowner exploits a member of the “untouchable” Dukhi class in Ray’s icily clear interrogation of the Indian class system, “told with stark visuals and the power of a parable”(Film Society of Lincoln Center). The great Om Puri stars. With short, Pikoo. (78 mins)

Sunday, August 24, 2014
5:00 p.m. An Enemy of the People
Satyajit Ray (India, 1989). A beloved doctor discovers that the holy water from a local temple is the source of his community's illness, in this timeless tale of science versus religion adapted from an Ibsen play. (100 mins)

Saturday, August 30, 2014
6:30 p.m. Branches of the Tree
Satyajit Ray (India, 1990). (Shakha Proshakha). Family ties turn to family binds in this tale of a dying patriarch and his four sons, none of whom are ready to forget their past. “Everything moves and breathes, everything has nuance and depth”(Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde). (130 mins)

Sunday, August 31, 2014
5:00 p.m. The Stranger
Satyajit Ray (India, 1991). (Agantuk). Introduced by Dilip Basu. A comfortable Calcutta couple are visited by a seemingly long-lost uncle, who regales them with tales of his adventures until certain doubts emerge. Ray’s last film is “an extraordinary summing up of so much of Ray's worldview” (Film Society of Lincoln Center). (120 mins)

Presented in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Series curated by Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby. BAM/PFA wishes to thank: Michael Pogorzelski, Josef Lindner, May Haduong, Matt Severson, and Jane Glicksman at the Academy Film Archive; Dilip Basu, the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Julie Pearce and Waltraud Loges, BFI; Brian Belovarac, Janus Films; and Goutam Ghose.