Pather Panchali — as a parent

I posted this in the Criterion Channel FB Group, but I’ll share it here, in the off chance a couple of my more film-inclined friends might appreciate it.

To praise this film is wholly unoriginal, but after rewatching it last weekend with my 11 year old son, for the first time since before he was born, I cannot overstate my awe of the poetry and grace of this film.

I have little doubt that my feelings for it have only been enhanced by having become a father.

I have been utterly inhabited by it for the last three or four days. I cannot stop feeling its echoes.

If you’ve not watched it in a while, I would urge you to revisit it. If you’ve never seen it, it’s mandatory viewing.

Buy the trilogy in the Criterion flash sale today in fact.

And do please listen to Ray’s 15 minute narration of the making of the film included in one of the extra features, recorded a few years later. It’s riveting.

I will expand on my post to include a further appreciation of my son’s curiosity, patience, willingness to explore, and trust in me to guide him on a rewarding journey through cinema. It’s a big part of our life together. We watch a lot of movies, and we do a lot of learning together, and we thrill to how these wonderful films illuminate life, experience, and point towards truths not always easily grasped. I love introducing him to all of these films that have been close to my heart for most of my life, and re-watching them with him. There is always something new to discover and learn and feel, and with a film like Pather Panchali in particular, experiencing that with him as a father now is a whole new gift.

It wasn’t the easiest film for him, but he stayed with it.

It thrills me that he will give so many beautiful works of art a chance. Many of them have become favorites of his: he has Seven Samurai and Stalag 17 and Yojimbo and Sanjuro and The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester version) permanently downloaded on his pad so he can check in with them if we’re on a long drive camping. He can recite lines from these movies. He figured out the themes to some of the Kurosawa and Sergio Leone films on the piano, for both hands. We will whistle them together while we’re driving, or out and about.
More than that, it’s when he trusts me to watch films by directors like Renoir, Bresson, Varda, S. Ray, Charles Burnett, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chaplin, Souleymane Cissé, or Kelly Reichardt, Herzog, Melville, even bits of Derek Jarman, in languages as diverse as Bengali, Bambara, Fula, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese, that I feel especially grateful in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

I would also add that watching movies like some of these can be a truly outstanding way to enter in to fruitful conversations about difficult subjects–history, racism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, fascism, war, genocide, etc. There’s nothing in The Great Dictator a kid can’t see, but in its satirical, humorous way, the film gets to the heart of the horror of Germany in the 1930s, and provides many openings for discussion. We’ve watched it three times, and after the first time, stopped at various points in the film to talk about what’s going on. Same with Aguirre, Wrath of God, which felt terribly relevant after introducing Kiowa to South America this summer, as while we were there, we did not in any way avoid conversations about colonialism, the genocide and exploitation of native people, as well as the complexities of inter-tribal colonialism and conquest (from the perspective of other peoples in the Andes, the Incas were nearly as much an invading, occupying power as the Spanish). To an extent, while not tackling quite such weighty aspects of South American history, The Wages of Fear also bore new relevance after having visited Ecuador.

The most recent films we’ve watched include Renoir’s The Grand Illusion, which would be the oldest film he’s watched thus far; it’s from 1939, and Melville’s Un Flic, both in French, and of course Pather Panchali, 1955, in Bengali.

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