Saturday, March 14, 2015
Calcutta, towards the end of the 19th century. Charu lives in a wealthy mansion, but her husband, Bhupati, is never there for her since he is constantly busy with publishing a newspaper, "The Sentinel". In order for her not to be lonely all the time, he invites Charu's lazy brother Umapada to be his finance manager, and Bhupati's own brother, Amal, is called to keep her company. Amal, a sensitive writer, sparks Charu's talent in writing, and her text is published in a newspaper. However, she falls in love with him. When it is found out that Umapada fled the mansion with unpaid bills, Amal decides to leave the house as well, feeling Charu has feeling for him. Charu is devastated, and Bhupati finds out she loved Amal all the time. However, he returns home and they reconcile.
One of Satyajit Ray's highest rated films, "Charulata" - also known as "A Lonely Woman" - is a wonderfully sincere, simple little film, with a storyline and characters so cultured, sensitive and emotional that it is a delight, whereas it is crafted with a finesse from start to finish. The love triangle story is handled so exquisite, with such meticulous patience, that it always avoids the melodramatic in favor for an artistic, quality and ambitious narrative where the emotions are thus even stronger because they are so subtle and the characters are trying to restrain them. Ray's visual style is sustained, yet he has a great sense for aesthetic images (the scene where the camera is in front of Charu's head and follows her as she is swinging up to the top of tree and down on her swing; the tracking shot of Charu walking, "intermingled" by bars on the balcony...) which are completed by delicious characters, who know how to be both convincing and funny at times (Amal watching Charu on the swing and joking: "Have you heard they are planning to bring a tax on swinging?"; "Mediterranean... That sounds like running your fingers over the string of a tanpura"; Bhupati and his wife Charu exchanging this dialogue: "Are you lonely?" - "I got used to it." - "No one should ever get used to being lonely."), whereas the black and white cinematography gives the story that 'good-old-school' charm, a feeling of a somehow warmer, somehow more humane mood. A few moments are slightly overlong here and there, which sometimes disrupts the fine mood, but overall, everything here is done just right, especially the famous ending with "frozen" last images, which all lead up to the inevitable conclusion that this is a classic.