Satyajit Ray – “The Music Room”.

On January 25th, the restored version of music exhibition, one of the most stunning films by Satyajit Ray, and in the history of cinema. Much has been said and written about this masterpiece. So let me share my enthusiasm for a film that is my gateway into the world of the great Indian filmmakers.

By 1958, Ray had recorded the first two parts of what was to come Apu Trilogy. We follow a poor boy from Bengal, from his childhood to his departure to Calcutta, where he dreams of becoming a writer. Amidst economic hardships and family calamities, Apu succeeds. Illuminated by Subrata Mitra’s photography, the realistic turn of scenes shot on the spot, the luminous vision of Bengali nature and close-ups of faces, which crown the sequence as its high point, the saga, far from miserable, is emancipation and a desire to embrace modernity, in India in transformation full.

in many ways, Music room is negative ofCan. It is one of the great stories of pride and decline. Biswambhar Roy, his aged hero, is one zamindar. The aristocrat is proud of his heritage, he rules over lands eaten up by the inevitable floods of rivers. Plunged into increasing loneliness, he steels himself against modernity represented by his neighbour, Mahim Ganguli, the son of a rising loan shark in society, whom he continues to despise. Set in the 1920s, the story, adapted from a short story by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, speaks to a world that viewers know has ended: in 1950, this feudal zamindar system, which was born during the Mughal empire and enshrined during the colonial period, has been abolished. .

However, Sitting room does not have historical paintings where small and big history will mingle. This is the story of a destructive desire, which blinded the world.

We don’t know what, his actual love of music or his pride, prompted Roy, despite his lack of resources, to propose a lavish event in his music hall. Bengal’s most famous musicians and dancers follow each other in front of the elected assembly. Ignoring all the demonstrations to which his neighbors were invited, eager for recognition, he responded by organizing increasingly expensive parties, his hubris being the cause of his downfall.

Fixated on Roy’s gaze, his audience is like him: locked in a microcosm where the music space becomes the epicenter and metonymy, he perceives the changes in the outside world only through their hearsay and the urgent visits of neighbors, this is rather vulgar nouveau riche. The decrepit palace where Roy had shut himself in was only shown in a wide shot after about ten minutes. Ray loved the interiors and close-ups of his character’s faces, the focal point where many of the tracking shots meet or begin.

In this shrinking and inhuman universe, objects play an important role. Performances construct stories around chandeliers, mirrors or boats, where the play of lights and shadows, underlined by the stark contrasts of black and white and Subrata Mitra’s always excellent photography, provides a spectral aspect that is sometimes grotesque and even grotesque. . The return of these objects is like a musical compositional motif that develops by relying on the same series of tones (which is the principle of raga, Hindustani classical music which is the heart of the film).

So, nothing has changed – Roy’s universe is still the same – but everything has changed: mirrors have become dull, chandeliers, which once shone with thousands of lights, are covered with cobwebs, miniature boats are images of opposing destinies and harbingers of the ultimate drama. As a statue, it still doesn’t move (most of the time he lies or sits and returns to movement will be tragically punished), Roy seems alien to the passage of time: his first line says: Ananta, what month is this? Is it spring? And, in one of the final scenes, he is surprised that the day has come. The objects bring him back to reality, at the same time allowing the viewer to find his place in the film’s temporal twists and turns. In the large mirror that adorns his music room, the unfortunate hero, briefly drawn, will observe with amazement that he has grown old.

In expertly composed shots, these same scenic elements make it possible to depict the tension between the intimate world and the outside that animates the entire film. While he was cornered in the far left corner of the image, Roy knew how to position himself in front of the mirror to appear in the center of perspective, whose vanishing point, drawn by the columns of the palace, pointed outward. view of the river, which can be seen in the distance. Alone in a lonely universe, a prisoner of place and overframing, but also of its history (his ancestral paintings form so many additional frames), the fallen nobleman gives himself the impression that he still rules the world. This man, whose gaze we so often see, only sees and staged himself in his decrepit kingdom.

However, if he does not see, he hears. It is through the ears that this compulsive music lover becomes aware, willy-nilly, of a life other than his own.

In the first sequence of the film, languidly on his roof terrace, he suddenly listens: where did this music come from? he asked his servant. And Ananta replied that his neighbor was celebrating his son’s initiation. The events from which the proud aristocrats so impudently fled were remembered with a voice. The film thus establishes the conditions for the competition to be played out through the music show. Ganguli’s visit would soon be announced by the horn of his new car, and the clank of the generator would become like a parasitic sound that would snap Roy out of his musical reverie. So, each new sequence is announced by voice or music. It is music that, in its almost perpetual motion, attracts temporal sound, making it move from reality to memory or to dream without us always clearly identifying what kind of image we are dealing with: a daydream? Storage? at the moment? visual feast, Music room because it also stands out as a fine sound composition.

And of course, there are the actual show scenes. The tragedy is entangled in three acts which are three performances given in the music room. Satyajit Ray, a passionate music lover who would compose the soundtracks for his films from the 60s, gives musicians a place of pride. That body composed by Ravi Shankar (still unknown) and Ali Akbarkhan unfolds at length, without interruption. The last dance, which never seems to end, is the last burst of energy and beauty before disaster strikes. It was Roy’s luxurious tomb.

On each of these occasions, the hero, strained to listen to her, expresses a look that we don’t know her for, and which suddenly makes her very human. It was a man who gave himself to contemplation and knew how to let the world of sensations come to him. Nothing is more difficult to play than to listen: it must be emphasized how exceptional Chhabi Biswas’ playing is, subtle and intense. It was thanks to him that Ray composed facial landscapes that were also a lesson in cinema, as Charles Tesson gloriously put it:

“Through his behavior, Ray portrays the audience’s true morals as well as a reflection of the art of staging. Cinema is not a re-enactment of the world but a transcription of the act of perception. Looking behind the scenes, the silent, attentive and passive witnesses are the hallmarks of Rayan’s heroes, from Apu to music room. With Ray, perception is before representation and even, through his character, that which always comes to the fore. It is the sharpness of perception that guides, which aesthetically shapes the nature of the representation. What to feel, how to be a spectator with Ray? Long dance scene music room which ends with the zamindar’s gesture forbidding his host from rewarding the dancer by pronouncing it admirably. If the audience’s attention is hypnotized by the dance performance, Ray shows us in a few short shots of the audience where two onlookers emerge from: his host and his impractical neighbor. Beyond social differences, for Ray there is an immeasurable gulf between the two attitudes of the audience. Neighbor’s face Ray pointed as a mirror. There’s no need for a back shot because his demeanor is imitating, imitating beyond what he sees and hears. This is the surface face, the pure exterior, which sends back to us through its demeanor a caricature of what it sees but lets nothing of what it perceives pass through. The stubborn face, the original wall of the performance venue bouncing where Ray opposes the zamindar face, the open face, the filter face that, through every pore of skin, lets the secret pleasures of this music and this dance penetrate into him.

All the great filmmakers of portraits, facial landscapes, are enthralled by the moment of impression of expression, right in the skin, and have a facial horror fixated on the expression, always present, never present in the face. With someone like Dreyer, it is surprising to see that the landscape of faces, the blank pages of fields from which the subject text is given to read, is inhabited and programmed by the interior of the subject, the faces being their point of emergence. , the place through which the movement that starts from the inside and goes out, occurs in the viewer who looks at this face. In my opinion, Ray is the only facial landscape filmmaker who films opposite movement, from the outside in. (…) This is where Ray’s cinema complements and completes the Renoirian device, between the sensuality of perception and enjoyment of the world, the face is a filter, not a place of revelation but a place of world involution. This is what a zamindar looks like to Ray, being a filmmaker.”

Charles TESSON, Satyajit Ray 70 yearsEiffel Edition, Brussels, 1991

It is therefore up to us, like Roy in this last picture, to allow ourselves to be traversed by the sensations conveyed by a piece of supposed slowness, to paraphrase Kurosawa, is nothing but a continuous, irresistible grand movement that carries us away like a river.

Satyajit Ray, Music Room.

100 minutes, black and white.

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