Charulata [1964]

04Mar12 – 9 – Charulata | চারুলতা
(Satyajit Ray: 1964)

Partway through the long (10 minutes?) opening sequence in Satyajit Ray’s CHARULATA (1964) the thought hit me that I was seeing a riff on “A Doll’s House”. The basic premise is the same in both (an intelligent, affluent woman with a distracted, emotionally absent husband; the same stifling boredom and lack of outlet), but Ray’s (and Tagore’s) Charu doesn’t go out with a bang the way Nora did. (Yeah, that was a joke.) I don’t know enough about Ray, or about Tagore on whose novella the movie was based, but surely it’s not purely coincidental that CHARULATA takes place in 1879, the same year that Ibsen’s play was published and premiered?

There’s so much to praise about CHARULATA. There’s the opening sequence where we’re introduced to Charu as she moves about her enormous house; everything we need to know about her and her situation is there. In another virtually dialogueless scene much later in the movie, we see Charu admit to herself (at least that’s how I read the scene) that she’s in love with her husband’s younger brother (cousin?) while she’s on a swing singing and he’s writing what we’re led to think is old-fashioned, turgid poetry on the ground below her. But those are just two extended sequences in a film that’s filled with exquisite details large and small. There are some stylistic quirks that I found jarring (the rapid zooms in on a face, an object), and the character of Bhupati, Torvald to Charu’s Nora, is almost cartoonishly drawn, but that’s OK. And CHARULATA made me look up some names for their significance so now I know at least a *teeny tiny little bit*about Bengali nationalism and literature at the end of the 19th century, so that’s good. 9/10. [3/4/12]

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