Page 1 of 3
Satyajit Ray's smart, provocative melodrama is perhaps a bit uneven, but nevertheless a stunner on Criterion Blu-ray....
Criterion / 120 Minutes / 1964 / Unrated / Street Date: August 20, 2013
Charulatais not a particularly significant piece of cinema, nor does it rank among Satyajit Ray’s most accomplished efforts. But watching the film on this beautiful new Criterion Blu-ray (taken from a freshly-stricken 2K transfer) is an exercise in indelible impression: the guy behind the wheel of this thing spends two hours doing nothing but impressing his viewers around every turn. Charulata, while never majestic, is handled with the steady hand of a seasoned expert, and it makes the act of watching it often thrilling.
The melodrama at the center of the picture centers on the beautiful young title character (Madhabi Mukherjee), a woman whose husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee) has very little time for. His job at a local newspaper takes up pretty much all of his time, and eventually he decides that he’ll have his cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) come out for a visit to keep the ol’ ball and chain occupied here and there. This backfires, of course, when a spark bubbles up between Amal and Charulata that can’t be denied.
This is no Douglas Sirk weepie, mind you. Charulata is saddled with some seriously arcane cliché, but Satyajit Ray knows that as long as he keeps the context of his soap opera rigorously stirred, the inertia of his narrative will overcome the potholes in the road. It’s best to simply succumb to the languid charms of Charulata: unlike The Big City (also released recently by Criterion on BD), this fable plays out like a family saga, the kind of story an aunt or uncle would tell you over a post-meal cocktail of a time and place long gone. Again, it’s no classic, but if this is Satyajit Ray in water-treading mode, the world is all the better for it.