995 (127). Maskerade / Masquerade in Vienna (1934, Willi Forst)

Screened December 22 2009 on .avi downloaded from the Website that dare not speak its name in Brooklyn, NY TSPDT Rank #955  IMDb Wiki (German)

Considered the pinnacle of '30s Austrian cinema, Maskerade embodies much of the best of 30s European filmmaking, in which the camera dances to a distinctly musical rhythm of movements and countermovements. It sits comfortably among the '30s films of Rene Clair, Max Ophuls and Jean Renoir, as well as Ernst Lubitsch's work in Hollywood. Compared to most of those films, its topic may seem relatively fluffy: an artist creates a minor scandal by painting a masked nude suspected to be an aristocrat's fiancee; when he names an innocent girl in an attempted cover-up, it leads to unexpected romantic entanglement. Willi Forst takes a well-worn continental costume milieu as a starting point, doing everything he can to breathe life into it. The camera darts with ease through ballroom scenes, connecting the eyelines of characters as they scope each other's movements. He laces the film with clever tricks both visual (dialogues filmed in silhouette) and aural (a montage of citizens making animal sounds while reading the gossip pages). Driving everything is a buoyant soundtrack of 19th century waltzes and opera, whose lilting rhythms can be found in the film's pacing even when the music subsides. The film itself feels like a symphony of varied movements: robust allegros, minuet-like montages, and a climactic rondo that brings everything to full circle. Overall, life is presented as an irresistible society ball, governed by status, gossip and decadent desire.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Maskerade among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Friedrich Luft, Sight & Sound (1952) Hans Schifferle, Steadycam (2007) Ludwig Gesek, Sight & Sound (1982) Kazakh Cinematheque World Poll - 100 Best Films (2006) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

It is unfortunate that we should have seen "Escapade" before having had an opportunity to admire "Masquerade in Vienna," the Viennese film which Metro copied in 1935 when it sought an introductory vehicle for Luise Rainer. "Escapade," we now realize, was a rather bad imitation. Like most copies, it tended to exaggerate the distinctive qualities of the original, understating one, overemphasizing another and throwing the entire theme slightly out of focus. "Masquerade," which opened yesterday at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse, has none of "Escapade's" defects. It steers a deftly guided course between farce and drama and it emerges as a frivolous, yet tender, romantic comedy.

Willy Forst's direction has kept his narrative spinning gayly, and an engaging cast, headed by the charming Paula Wessely in the Rainer rôle, has enlivened it with a series of deftly executed character studies. Miss Wessely, more self-contained than Miss Rainer, is wholly attractive as the shy little person innocently drawn into the spicy scandal of the lady in the mask. Particularly captivating is she in the scene where she timorously enters the artist's studio, expecting to find cushions, incense and drugged wine, and is, instead, subjected to a growling bullying by the conscience-stricken painter. I cannot find much virtue in Anton Walbrook's portrayal of the artist Heideneck, but Walter Janssen is knowingly comic as the badgered conductor whose wife has been indiscreet, Peter Petersen is excellent as the gruff Dr. Harrandt, and Olga Tschekowa, Julia Serda and Hilde von Stolz are faultless.

- Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, January 26 1937

maskerade08

Maskerade (Masquerade) (1934), secured his reputation as a significant director and gave him the international recognition he did not quite have as an actor. It also made an instant star of Paula Wessely in her lead debut. A foremost figure in German language motion pictures and theatre for five decades and the wife of Attila Hörbiger, Laurence Olivier considered her to be the greatest film actress of the twentieth century, and Bette Davis was known to have studied her performances. Her role as the impoverished but morally upright art student Leopoldine in the decadent atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Vienna, set the tone for the female lead (along with Luise Ullrich in Lieder) in the Viennese Film, and it also typecast Wessely as the innocent or “good” woman for most of her work in the 1930s and '40s. The centrepiece of Maskerade is Leopoldine's meeting with the society painter Heideneck (Adolf Wohlbrück) at a lavish carnival ball. Its strikingly romantic-decadent, even erotic mood can be credited to the soft camera work of Franz Planer and to the seductive music arranged and composed by Willi Schmidt-Gentner. Maskerade received an award for best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival and ultimately proved to be so successful internationally, that Hollywood “borrowed” the story for a new, but less welcomed version entitled Escapade in 1935, with Luise Rainer.

- Robert von Dassanowsky, Senses of Cinema

Anton Walbrook, young and elegant, plays the artist who sketches the wife of a prominent Viennese surgeon in nothing but a mask and a muff, and then is forces to invent a model. Paula Wessely is the girl he invents. Walter Reisch's light, romantic screenplay is an almost perfect example of writing for the screen.

- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies. Macmillan, 1991. Page 470

ABOUT WILLI FORST

IMDb Wiki

A specific blend of historical and aesthetic sensibilities melded into a unique style in Austrian cinema during the early sound period in the 1930s. It soon became known as an entirely new and geographically focused genre in European cinema, the Viennese Film. The artist responsible more than any other for this concept was Willi Forst. He began his career at age 16 as an actor on the provincial stages in the Austria–Hungary and the German Empire, and appeared as a featured performer in the post World War I operetta theatres of Vienna and Berlin. His early career in Austrian silent film ranged from being an extra in Michael Kertesz's (Michael Curtiz) monumental Sodom und Gomorrha (1922) to a notable second lead in Gustav Ucicky's Café Elektric (1927) opposite a pre-Blue Angel Marlene Dietrich. He made his sound and singing film debut in Atlantic (Germany 1929) and soon became known for his distinctive velvety voice and “charming Viennese” persona (1) in German films usually directed by Geza von Bolvary. He subsequently appeared in two of the best Austrian comedies of the early 1930s: with the first-lady of the Viennese stage, Hedwig Bleibtreu, in Karl Hartl's Der Prinz von Arkadien (The Prince of Arcadia) (1932), written by his future production partner Walter Reisch; and in what Forst considered the best learning experience for his future role as director, So ein Mädel vergisst man nicht (Unforgettable Girl) (1933) directed by expressionist film actor-turned-director Fritz Kortner. Forst actively developed his reputation as a great screen lover, but his directorial debut in Leise flehen meine Lieder (The Unfinished Symphony) in 1933 brought to Austrian and Central European cinema one of its greatest filmmakers and influential industry figures, whose lack of presence in the international film “canon” of important directors today is one more casualty from the negligence that has greeted Austrian cinema since the collapse of its commercial film industry in the 1960s. International attention to New Austrian Film since the 1990s has also helped bring Austria's film heritage art to the fore, and Willi Forst is now gaining a very belated “comeback” with world cineastes.

-Robert von Dassanowsky, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography

Willi Forst to date is the greatest talent in Austrian film history, with the possible exception of Billy Wilder, who had to emigrate.

Together with Walter Reisch, an Austrian scriptwriter in Berlin who had tailored nearly all of Willi Forst's German roles for him, Forst coauthored the screenplay for the Schubert film Leise flehen meine Lieder (1933). Thus was the "Viennese film" born, with its inimitable blend of music and action. The film was romantic, but Forst did not dwell on a sugary Biedermeier image, but also showed the poor living conditions and class barriers. In 1934 he produced and directed the big production, Maskerade (1934), the film which launched Paula Wessely on her way to film stardom and Hans Moser as comic. This social comedy set in turn-ofthe-century Vienna featured the big ball scenes of which Willi Forst became the unsurpassed master, and a frivolous love story ending very conservatively: the famous painter (Adolf Wohlbrück) chooses not the jaded, elegant society lady (Olga Tschechowa) as his wife, but the plain, wholesome poor girl (Paula Wessely), thus reflecting the contemporary ideological attitude toward women in the Austrian corporate state. Beginning with this big success Forst as actor, director, screenwriter, and producer dominated the Austrian filmmaking scene for the next fifteen years. In life as in film, he was the quintessential elegant Viennese gentleman. As a film maker he aimed at perfection.

- Gertraud Steiner Daviau, Film Reference.com

ABOUT WIENER FILM

Wiener Film (German; plural: Wiener Filme; literally, "Viennese film") is an Austrian film genre, consisting of a combination of comedy, romance and melodrama in an historical setting, mostly, and typically, the Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Wiener Film genre was in production between the 1920s and the 1950s, with the 1930s as its high period.

These films are always set in the past, and achieve a high emotional impact by their oscillation between extreme emotional states, between hope and suffering, for example, or pleasure and loss. Most of them are set in the Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when as the capital of the multiracial monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it had its greatest social and cultural significance. The protagonists belong to a variety of social classes, which adds to the interest of the relationships between them. The concepts of honour and morality of the period are often of great significance in the development of the plots. The Wiener Film is almost always happy, life-affirming and relaxed. Music and song feature prominently, either in the form of orchestral and musical scenes or as interpolated songs by the characters. Humour often arises from misunderstandings, mistaken identity, misadventures and the resultant efforts to restore order, with often farcical consequences.

Dramaturgically the Wiener Film generally contains several principal characters and several more subsidiary characters, all of whom recur frequently throughout the film as the action develops. They do not always all know each other, but are nevertheless connected by the plots and sub-plots running in parallel. The action mostly centres on love affairs great and small, often with elements of the comedy of mistaken identity. The films are generally unchallenging in terms of the contemporary socio-political issues and environment (for some rare exceptions see below).

The first films that can be classed as Wiener Filme were created in the 1920s, in the days of the silent film. The genre trached its full potential however with sound film, when the specifically Viennese dialect (see below), verbal dexterity and the characteristically Viennese acid wit (Wiener Schmäh) were able to come into their own and made the genre popular not only in Austria but also in Germany. Willi Forst's production Leise flehen meine Lieder, a biography of Franz Schubert, was so successful that an English-language version was made, under the title Unfinished Symphony. Willi Forst is one of the most significant directors of Wiener Film, and made what is generally reckoned to be the best of the genre, the 1935 film Maskerade.

- Wikipedia

962 (104). Unter den Brücken / Under the Bridges (1945, Helmut Käutner)

screened March 30 2009 on .avi in Weehawken NJ TSPDT #829 IMDb

Made as an escapist comedy during the death throes of Nazi Germany, Under the Bridges feels like a throwback to a more innocent cinema that never knew the war, reveling in the French romanticism that thrived in the preceding decade: L'Atalante (TSPDT #16); A Day in the Country (TSPDT #153); as well as Boris Barnet's practically-French By the Bluest of Seas (TSPDT #875).  Two boatmen are tired of a shared love life that amounts to shore leave flings and glances at girls who watch like angels from bridges as their vessel passes beneath their skirts. Masterful camera movements sweep the top deck of a barge, scanning the activity on and around it, or swirl around the racetrack layout of a restaurant in which a flirtatious waitress makes her rounds, sizing up proposals from rivaling suitors. There's a constant bustle of comings, goings, small heartbreaks and sighs, but like the river barge upon which it is mostly set, the film chugs along with a cheerful stoicism, neither oblivious to life's endless disappointments nor prone to succumbing to them. It's a pragmatic strain of romanticism that belongs uniquely to this film.

When the boatmen pick up a troubled girl with a mysterious past and take turns pitching woo to her, the outcome of this romantic rivalry is less important than how this triangle strains the film's no-nonsense take on the usefulness of love. A tension emerges between the boatmen's tacit vow to treat work and mating as affairs of pertinence, and a temptation to succumb to swooning romantic impulse, expressed in moments and images of exquisitely subtle beauty: a man and a woman washing each other's hands or laughing while flipping potato pancakes; the riverside sensuality of listening to frogs ribbitting rhythmically under velvet sheets of night; the emotional upheaval contained in a falling lock of hair. Charged by this clash between practicality and impulse, the film doesn't move so much as oscillate: its camera swings around a room from corner to corner, face to face, caught between conflicting protocols of courtship. One moment you're using your pet goose to flirt with the girl you've picked up, the next moment you're serving that same goose to the same girl for dinner, and she's mortified. One moment you're charging her 10 marks to ride your barge; the next you're both calculating how much of a refund to give and receive because things didn't work out.

Eventually this tension gives way to the gentlest of fights that expresses little more than a desire shared by all three characters: to nurture and be nurtured as friends and lovers. It's a strangely wise film whose camera traces the daunting eddies of amorous desire, steadied by an undercurrent of calm acceptance at everything that life presents: heartbreak, hardships, even, perhaps, the war raging around the film's production.  It's all worth it just for the way the girl says "yeah" and puts her head on her man's chest near the end.

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Under the Bridges in the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Christian Petzold, BPB Filmkanon (2003) Claudius Seidl, Steadycam (2007) Dominik Graf, Steadycam (2007) Hans Helmut Prinzler, Steadycam (2007) Michael Althen, Steadycam (2007) Rainer Gansera, Steadycam (2007) Wolfgang Hobel, Steadycam (2007) Moving Pictures: A Century of European Filmography 100 Films Illustrating the Quality of European Cinematography (2003) Taschen Books Movies of the 20s-90s (2003-2007) They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Shot in the final months of World War II, Unter den Brücken feels like a movie out of time. If no one told you, there'd be no way of knowing that Allied forces were already occupying Aachen and flying nightly raids over Berlin, that the Red Army was advancing through Eastern Prussia. In the relaxed world of Unter den Brücken, there's no war and no Final Solution, just a Havel barge named Liselotte and its joint owners, Hendrik (Carl Raddatz) and Willy (Gustav Knuth). Tired of the lonely river life, the two bargees both fall for the same displaced Schlesian girl trying to make a living in Berlin, given wonderful life by Hannelore Schrott. The worst danger these characters face is heartbreak.

Marcel Carné and Jean Vigo are frequently cited as influences on Käutner's poetic touch, and rightfully so. Unter den Brücken sparkles with loveable throwaway gestures, richly textured cinematography, and sound design that's so evocative that Käutner dedicates an entire scene to the plop of frogs in the water, the crunch of rope against the hull, and the wind in the reeds. The film's good-natured spirit never leaves it even during the saddest third-act reversals, and the big-hearted resolution suggests a stubborn capacity for peace and hope in the face of the global conflagration raging just out of sight.

-Jürgen Fauth, About.com

The film–atypically shot largely on location–offers a relaxed, languid atmosphere and subtle performances that amazingly belie little of the chaos and mounting devastation in the final days of the war. Käutner understands that the film’s romanticism will only work if it takes its time, and he allows the drama to unfold with unruffled ease. Scenes involving characters sitting on a deck at night, listening to the diversity of natural sounds, or sharing a moment while playing an accordion in the dwindling twilight typify the plot. Käutner applies a great deal of visual sophistication with moody chiaroscuro lighting and unexpectedly graceful camera movements that intensify the emotions with Ophülsian relish.

- Doug Cummings, Film Journey.org

Under the Bridges is actually my favorite film. Anyone who sees it today would not be able to understand that at the time, when there was no future any more and Germany's final collapse was a question of days, it was possible to film such a simple, almost idyllic story... When I really think about it, what we did arose from the film makers' stubbornness to allow any of the horror which surrounded us to seep into our work.

- Helmut Käutner, quoted in Marc Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 263.

ABOUT HELMUT KAUTNER

IMDb Wiki

"Helmut Käutner has made 36 films for the big screen. Those you will have to watch for yourself." The dry wit and subliminal challenge of this assessment at the beginning of Marcel Neudeck’s fine half-hour portrait Wer Ist Helmut Käutner? (Who Is Helmut Käutner, 2008)—itself the work of a waning filmkritik tradition, the scholarly television documentary—might have pleased the master himself. Käutner, who (like his peer David Lean) would have turned 100 on March 25, liked his comedy double-edged, whether elegant and understated or raucous and sharp. His tragedies are no less ambivalent. A humanist intellectual, whose layered studies of conflicting social forces and individual fates may have been too subtle for the culture surrounding them, Käutner qualifies as one of the pantheon directors of German cinema, possibly even the nation’s finest major filmmaker of the sound era save, perhaps, Fassbinder.

- Christoph Huber, Moving Image Source

Kautner is counted among the directors who produced high quality, unpolitical entertainment films in the second half of the Third Reich. He is claimed to be one of the few representatives of "film art" in German fascism. Others detect in his filmmaking a sign of political opposition in the resistance to the aesthetics of the fascist narrative. From this perspective the absence of violence, heroic themes, and visual monumentality opens a space for playfulness and formal concerns which were otherwise considered suspect if not decadent by the film censors. Common to both of these positions is, first, an appreciation of the filmmaker's technical competence and, second, the wish to vindicate that quality as something beyond fascism. Yet the film industry was a priority interest for Goebbel's propaganda ministry, one of the most highly scrutinized and carefully controlled branches of an administered culture and subject to intervention at every step. Hence, to recognize artistic or creative achievements as exceptions to the rule does not obviate the need to understand how these films too produce illusions of escapism within the fascist system.

Helmut Kautner is particularly interesting in this respect because the nine films he completed during The Third Reich have been recognized as his most successful, despite a long career as director extending into the seventies. He is often singled out as the most brilliant film talent to have emerged during the National-Socialist regime, a director whose early films evoke an atmosphere identified with the tradition of Ernst Lubitsch and Max Ophuls and whose style reflects the influence of the French cinema identified with names like Rene Clair, Jean Renoir, and Marcel Carne. His most striking achievement within the norms of Goebbels' film industry, however, was the ability to combine the talents of scriptwriter and director, for Kautner was unique among Third Reich filmmakers for having written or coauthored the scripts for all his films.  This enabled him to exercise a rigor few other directors enjoyed, especially those involved in the production of entertainment features. Kautner's witty dialogues, the careful dramaturgy with its superb sense of timing and rhythm, the mobile camera, the varied editing techniques, and the meticulous handling of light and shadow reveal a high degree of subtlety and a sensitivity for visual detail while highlighting the utter impoverishment of aesthetic understanding among the majority of film directors.

- Marc Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context. Published by Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 82.

We shall speak of the gratitude that the young art of film has to express to the old art of the theater independently of any current event.

This gratitude is almost never expressed, for between the two, film and theater, there gapes the rift between the generations, the age-old contrast between parents and children. If film and theater move apart in debate over the theory or practice of art, then they simply move apart. Unfortunately, they never get together. Were they to do so, they would realize that they have more in common than they have in opposition.

A look at the lineage and the development of the theater marks out the path for film. It provides film with the artistic goal of achieving a total artwork appropriate to its form. Through its centuries-long struggle for expression and appearance, the theater has smoothed the artistic paths for film to such an extent that film was able to succeed in reaching the vicinity of absolute art in the short time of its existence. It, too, needs the poet in order to raise itself, as the theater did in its time, from entertainment to an art form. It, too, need uniquely creative personalities, as, for example, Neuberin and Lessing were for the theater, in order to find the laws unique to it. It thanks the eloquent example of the theater for being able to walk these paths with a clear goal before its eyes.

- Helmut Kautner (translated by Lance W. Garmer). From "Gratitude toward the Theater" (1945). Published in German essays on film, by Richard W. McCormick, Alison Guenther-Pal.  Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Pages 167, 168.

Video Essays for 926 (67). Aranyer Din Ratri / Days and Nights in the Forest (1970, Satyajit Ray) - featuring Preston Miller

Special thanks to Preston Miller, director of Jones, for his fastidious commentary and contributions to these video essays.  Expect one more in the coming days, edited by Preston and featuring an exclusive interview with Soumitra Chatterjee, star of the film. Introduction to the film:

Scene analysis - "The Memory Game:"

926 (67). Aranyer Din Ratri / Days and Nights in the Forest (1970, Satyajit Ray)

screened August 4, 2008 on DVD in Weehawken NJ TSPDT rank #988 IMDb  Wiki

This mid-career effort from India's most celebrated filmmaker shows his craft firing on all cylinders, from the deft dialogue and orchestration of a talented ensemble through several subplots to his lithe camera and shifting, multifaceted perspectives on class and sex. Four young urban businessmen take a jaunt to the countryside to act like frat boys one last time before adulthood inevitably sucks the life out of them; with grace and subtlety Ray is able to celebrate their rebellious drive to individual expression against stifling social norms, while simultaneously pointing out their selfishness and abusiveness towards less privileged countrymen. Events unfold with a symphonic complexity, each character an instrument: Ray mainstay Soumitra Chatterjee's jazzy restraint as a self-absorbed playboy, Rabi Ghosh's ebullient comic relief, and Sharmila Tagore's fragile yet hypnotic sensuality as Chatterjee's romantic counterpart are only half of the ineffable performances on display. But the greatest performance of all is Ray's camera, relentless in its perpetual explorations of space and reconfigurations of people within any given scene, dissecting and re-animating a society that is essentially frozen in its stratified customs. By the end, the only profound change experienced by any of the characters is the kindling of a private love between two people and connection beyond one self. Their fragile naissance is juxtaposed by an act of lust followed by violence between one couple, and an embarrassingly failed seduction between another. Such variety in expressing the vertiginous distance between people seeking love exemplifies Ray's mastery as both dramatist and cineaste.

Want to go deeper?

The following ballots were counted towards the film's placement on They Shoot Pictures' Top 1000 Films:

Mari Kuttna - Sight & Sound (1982) Penelope Houston - Sight & Sound (1982) Richard Barkley  -John Kobal Book (1988) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) Jonathan Rosenbaum Essential Cinema: Favourite 1,000 Films (2004)

The following quotes were found on the film's tribute page on Satyajit Ray.org:

"On the surface, this Satyajit Ray film is a lyrical romantic comedy about four educated young men from Calcutta, driving together for a few days in the country, and the women they meet. The subtext is perhaps the subtlest, most plangent study of the cultural tragedy of imperialism; the young men are self-parodies--clowns who ape the worst snobberies of the British. A major film by one of the great film artists, starring Soumitra Chatterjee and the incomparably graceful Sharmila Tagore. - Pauline Kael in Reeling

"... every word and gesture is recognizable, comprehensible, true ... Ray's work at its best, like this, has an extraordinary rightness in every aspect of its selection and presentation - the timing, performance, cutting, music - which seem to place it beyond discussion." - David Robinson, Financial Times, 15 October 1971

Other pages on the film:

Satyajit Ray's World

Satyajit Ray Center of the University of California Santa Cruz

Ray's most overtly Renoir-ish film, this might almost be a remake of Une Partie de Campagne, transposed to another time and place and through another sensibility. Instead of the French bourgeois family setting off for a picnic, four young men leave Calcutta for a few days in the country, trailing their westernised careerist attitudes, a middle class indifference to the lower orders, a self-satisfaction that leaves them closed to experience. Out of a series of delightfully funny mishaps as the visitors eagerly try to pursue acquaintance with their two promisingly attractive neighbours, Ray gradually distils a magical world of absolute stasis: a shimmering summer's day, a tranquil forest clearing, the two women strolling in a shady avenue, wistful yearnings as love and the need for love echo plangently. Elsewhere jobs have to be won or lost, problems faced and solved, but not here; an illusion of course, revealed as time lifts its suspension but leaves one of the quartet a changed man, the other three assailed by tiny waves of self-doubt. Beautifully shot and acted, it's probably Ray's masterpiece.

- Time Out

From this beginning, aided by the beautiful, luminous black-and-white cinematography of Soumendru Roy, Ray contrives an extraordinary world, at once Arcadian and yet possessed of utter, unforced naturalness and reality. Ray's language of cinema is a kind of miraculous vernacular, all his own. It has mystery, eroticism and delight. Critics have compared this film to Renoir and Chekhov. To those two masters I am inclined to add a third: Shakespeare. The phrase "must see" is bandied about very casually - but this deserves it.

- Peter Bradshaw, The UK Guardian

Satyajit Ray always insisted that his films were made first and foremost for his own fellow-Bengalis, adding that foreign viewers, unless exceptionally well up on Bengali language and culture, would inevitably miss a lot of what was going on. Despite such claims, several of Ray's films found more appreciative (and, it could be argued, more perceptive) audiences outside India. One such was Days and Nights in the Forest, widely hailed by Western critics as one of the director's finest films, but received by his compatriots with puzzlement and indifference.

Indian viewers, by all accounts, were put off by the loose-limbed, seemingly random flow of the narrative. "People in India kept saying: What is it about, where is the story, the theme?" Ray observed regretfully in a Sight & Sound interview. "And the film is about so many things, that's the trouble. People want just one theme, which they can hold in their hands." He likened the structure of the film to a fugue, in which different elements appear and reappear developed, interwoven, transformed, and subtly balanced against each other.

Aranyer din Ratri

But there's also a political dimension to the film. Days and Nights can be seen as a prelude to the three films often grouped together as Ray's "City Trilogy": The Adversary, Company Limited, and The Middleman. In these films Ray engaged, for the first time in his career, the social and political upheavals that were then shaking Bengal, and in Days and Nights he hints at the kind of class- and caste-based attitudes that underlay this unrest. The four young men from the city are not unlikable, but their treatment of the local "tribal" people reveals an unthinking arrogance that at times verges on brutality. Hari, having mislaid his wallet, at once accuses the villager co-opted as their servant of stealing it, and hits him—an injustice which later rebounds on him. Even Ashim, the most intelligent and politically aware of the four, browbeats the caretaker of their bungalow into accepting a bribe, then mockingly comments (in English, significantly), "Thank God for corruption."Days and Nights in the Forest marks a transition in Ray's filmmaking career, turning his talents for social comedy, emotional nuance, and quiet, understated irony towards more contemporary concerns. At the same time it demonstrates the subtlety of his narrative control, concealing a carefully devised dramatic shape beneath the seemingly casual flow of everyday life. Far from being shapeless or lacking a theme, as its first audiences imagined, the film is subtly orchestrated throughout: there isn't a scene or incident, barely even a gesture, that doesn't contribute to the overall purpose.

—Philip Kemp, Film Reference.com

 One of the overriding themes of the film is the clash of polarities as represented by the urban and the rural; the rich and the poor; the sophisticated and the tribal; the corrupt and the innocent. But Ray, being the compassionate master that he is, refers to the theme obliquely, in swift and deft brush strokes and does not address it as an agenda like the so-called art filmmakers of the 70s who made an issue out of it. It stays at the level of subtext. We retain our sympathies with the characters despite their double standards and narrow mindedness; the characters come across as rounded and believable, and a reflection of ourselves maybe in many cases.

No discussion of the film would be complete without the memory game sequence that is played out by the six major characters. Each player has to choose the name of a famous person and also remember, in sequence, all the previous choices. Subtle and elegantly structured, each character reveals himself or herself in the way he or she plays. Ray’s mastery of the misce-en-scene comes out in full steam as he cuts between the different characters and tracks from character to character as they engage in this wonderful game that throbs with sexual undercurrents. It is a brilliant piece of cinema played out in a surefire style and marks him out amongst the masters of world cinema. Mention must also be made of the wonderful cross cutting sequence towards the end of the film when all the four male characters are engaged in their respective pursuits. With a tribal fair as its central setting, the director intercuts between the different sets of characters: Ashim trying to forge a relationship with Mini; the voluptuous Jaya trying to seduce Sanjay; Hari running amongst the wilderness with the svelte and dusky tribal girl before they end up making love under the trees and Sekhar gambling away with borrowed money. The entire sequence is interspersed with shots of tribal women dancing to primitive rhythm as the central characters are engaged in their primitive pursuits. It is another piece of beautiful cinema that raises the film to extraordinary levels of artistic expression as the music rises to a crescendo.

Bansi Chandragupta’s re-construction of the interiors of the forest bungalow and the country liquor shop and recreation of the tribal fair are other highlights of the film that point to a superb craftsmanship in the annals of realistic cinema. His teaming with Ray was a winning companionship that is sorely missed in Ray’s last films after Bansi’s death.

- from Upperstall.com (author unattributed)

 Conjuring an atmosphere both Shakespearean and Chekhovian, and borrowing Antonioni’s signature theme of alienation, Satyajit Ray achieved a complex, poignant result with Aranyer Din Ratri—like Ray’s Kanchenjungha (1962), a “holiday film.” Ray’s apprenticeship to Jean Renoir is richly evident here; Une partie de campagne seems an especial influence. Like Renoir, Ray portrays Nature as a moral force one can either resist or submit to; unlike the men, their pair of picnic partners already seem to have taken Nature into their lives, perhaps along with their joint loss (brother, spouse), but, as likely, steadily, gradually. The sparkling forest in Aranyer Din Ratri exudes the mystery that would elude the Mirabar caves fifteen years hence in David Lean’s A Passage to India... This ravishingly beautiful black-and-white film is quietly momentous about love—few films are so driven by erotic undertows—and about the ways we open up to others and the ways we stay shut.

- Dennis Grunes, ranking Days and Nights in the Forest #43 among his 100 Greatest Asian Films

BBC review by Jaime Russell

About Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray World

Satyajit Ray.org

In-depth reviews of many Satyajit Ray films by Acquarello at Strictly Film School

When I was writing a biography of Satyajit Ray in the 1980s, I received a magnificent letter about him from the great Akira Kurosawa. “The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly… They can be described as flowing composedly, like a big river. Mr Ray is a wonderful and respectful man. I feel that he is a ‘giant’ of the movie industry.” Many years earlier, in an interview Kurosawa even went so far as to say: “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

For Scorsese, “Satyajit Ray’s ability to turn the particular into the universal was a revelation to me. I had grown up in a very parochial society of Italian-Americans and yet I was deeply moved by what Ray showed of people so far from my own experience. I was moved by how their society and their way of life echoed the same chords in all of us.” For Mike Leigh, “coming back to Ray’s cinema has been like returning to a succulent banquet, or experiencing a series of clairvoyant flashes. I emerge from each of his films with a newly sharpened view of the world.” And for the writer and Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul, a severe critic indeed, Ray’s period film about the ‘clash of civilisations’ during the British Raj, The Chess Players (Shatranj ke Khilari) is “like a Shakespeare scene. Only three hundred words are spoken but goodness!—terrific things happen.” In my view, there is no director in cinema who can express what is going on inside a character’s head—his or her psychology—more acutely than Ray...

As if this were not enough, Ray has a strong claim to be the most versatile of film-makers. He was personally immersed in every aspect of production. He wrote the scripts of all his films, which were often original or near-original screenplays. He designed the effortlessly convincing sets and costumes down to the smallest details. He acted out the roles for the actors and actresses with consummate nuance. He operated the camera throughout the shooting (after 1963). He edited each frame of the film. He even composed and recorded the music after scoring it in a mixture of western and Indian notation, for all but his earliest films. The songs he wrote for The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha in 1969 are as well known on the streets of Calcutta as the best of Lennon & McCartney. The only activity he avoided—despite invitations from Hollywood producers like David Selznick—was acting in front of the camera, because “it would be too tedious”, as he told a mildly offended Marlon Brando...

I think the main reason for Ray’s comparatively low critical profile must be that genius takes time to be fully appreciated, in any culture. Those critics who try to diminish him as a simple third-world humanist lacking in cinematic sophistication demonstrate only their own ignorance of his films. In 1958, the chief film reviewer of the New York Times, Bosley Crowther, dismissed Pather Panchali as a film that would “barely pass for a rough cut in Hollywood”. So many people disagreed that Crowther saw the film again, changed his mind and published a second review; soon he was an aficionado of Ray, writing of The Postmaster that “It says almost all that can be managed about the loneliness of the human heart.” Yet as Ray himself realised: “the cultural gap between East and West is too wide for a handful of films to reduce it. It can happen only when critics back it up with study on other levels as well. But where is the time, with so many other films from other countries to contend with? And where is the compulsion?”

“I never had the feeling of grappling with an alien culture when reading European literature, or looking at European painting, or listening to western music, whether classical or popular,” said Ray in 1982, the first time we talked. The breadth of his knowledge staggered me then; now I find it unique.

- Andrew Robinson, author of Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, for MovieMail

I think he [Ray] chose actors who were slightly cerebral so they'd be able to follow his instructions. Speaking personally, I never found him difficult to follow. The way he spoke was crystal clear--it was never anything like "imagine you're a sunset, a flower blooming in the wind." It was "open that drawer, stand by that curtain." It was much easier.

- Sharmila Tagore, from interview in Metroactive, October 16, 2003

About Sunil Gangopadhyay

Essay by the author of the short story after which Days and Nights in the Forest is adpated