After THREE DAUGHTERS/’61 (TWO DAUGHTERS Stateside*), Bengali master Satyajit Ray returned to the writings of Rabindranath Tagore for one of his greatest films, a tale of intersecting relationship triangles set in the late 1880s. A wealthy man loves & cossets his wife, but gives his deepest attention to another mistress, his start-up political newspaper. A flirtatious cousin with a literary bent makes a visit and is encouraged by the husband to renew his wife’s interest in writing, and unknowingly steals her heart. And an unprincipled brother-in-law takes advantage of unearned trust, dipping into the newspaper’s assets, stealing something more tangible, if ultimately less important, than a lonely woman’s affection. Ray opens with a strikingly designed, nearly dialogue-free sequence, that shows wife Charulata as a beautiful bird stuck in her husband’s gilded cage of a mansion. The other introductions are blunt, even over-played in comparison, but these boldly drawn portraits quickly give way to infinite degrees of subtlety with small revelations bringing out devastating emotional responses. Like Ray’s THE MUSIC ROOM/’58 (not a Tagore adaptation), it’s about as close to Chekhov as movies get. (NOTE: Heaps of lousy, subfusc Ray DVD-transfers out there. Happily, Criterion has rescued a few lucky titles).
DOUBLE-BILL: *Hopefully, when TWO DAUGHTERS makes its belated appearance on DVD, we’ll get all THREE short stories. The shortest one, about a Post-Master in a rural village who ‘inherits’ a tiny, adolescent servant girl with the position, is enchanting & heartbreaking, a near perfect work of film art.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Trying to make something cinematic out of the writing process has defeated many a filmmaker. But watching steel-tipped pens dipping into inkwells before dancing a graceful Bengali cursive on paper is an artful thing to see in and of itself.