Distant Thunder (1973) - Satyajit Ray
Well been awhile since I've seen a Ray film, so I figured I was due. What I got was a film very typical of the master. It deals with peasants, it deals with the upper class, and it deals with man's inevitable corruptability. Survival is the key motivation in a Ray film. What a character thinks they'll do and what they do is always something that changes in the course of his film. It is funny in a way to see the pettiness of the main characters here, considered the most honored citizen of the town. They see a way to both help and exploit the town they live in. When food gets scarce though, they're the ones being exploited.
I must say first off that Distant Thunder is unquestionably one of Ray's best films. As a matter of fact, I don't recall being moved as much by any of his other films (The Middleman a possible exception). The story is depressing, as most of his work is, but perhaps I've seen enough of it to recognize it, and not be bothered by it. The story is like an Indian counterpart to Grave of the Fireflies. The only thing is no one really can explain the famine in this film. It was considered a "man made famine", and one that in reality killed over 5 million people in Bombay, some of the uncounted casualties of WWII I suppose.
It is Ray's first color film, and the first I've seen from him in color. It is bathed in natural light, and we get a feeling that perhaps Ray should have been making films in color the whole time. It stars Soumitra Chatterjee as Gangacharan, the Brahmin. If the man looks familiar it's because he appeared in 14 other Ray films. He is fantastic here, and much of his performance comes just from looking. He isn't big on dialogue in the film, but seeing his pompous attitude at the beginning, and that sad disgusted look towards the end. He is angry with his position. He doesn't feel he deserves this, but on the other hand he realizes that he too needs to survive.
Like all Ray films, this is a tale of humanity. The townspeople do what they can to help out, and in a moment of adversity they generally will come through for each other. Although many people starve and can't be helped, there is still a concern, and those who can help still do, particularly the Brahmin and his wife. It is atypical Ray, and one that should be seen by all.