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Satyajit Ray's portrait of a woman in 1960s India is as astute as it is challenging...
Criterion / 122 Minutes / 1963 / Unrated / Street Date: August 20, 2013
Satyajit Ray’s The Big City is a meek, beautifully, frustratingly slow-paced piece of cinema. It’s a movie that is implicitly worth defending, but even with the gorgeous new transfer Criterion has utilized for its high-def debut, The Big City is a hard nut to crack. This is clearly the work of a master craftsman operating at the top of his game, but as intriguing as the movie can be, its viewers are frequently driven to distraction.
The film follows the societal trajectory of Arati (Anil Chaterjee), an Indian woman simply trying to do right by her family. Early in the picture, Arati’s husband loses his job, and she finds herself in the position of having to find work herself in order to keep her household above water. But this endeavor takes on a troubling complication when she turns to be a crackerjack ace at what she does, eclipsing her husband’s unemployed status thunderously, and therefore upsetting the age-old ‘man of the house’ stasis that her culture demands.
Criterion continues to do right by Ray: while they bide their time waiting for a perfect opportunity to unleash an Apu Trilogy set that we’ve all been waiting for, unleashing lesser-known titles by the master like this one (and Charulata, also new on Criterion BD) is a treat. It’s fair to call The Big City a minor effort in Ray’s catalog, but even if it’s perhaps more slow-moving than it should be, there are nevertheless merits aplenty within its narrative parameters.