Satyajit Ray – “The Music Room”.

Retrieved January 25 music fair, one of the most dazzling films of Satyajit Ray and cinema history. Much has been said and written about this masterpiece. So let me just share my passion for a film that was my gateway to the world of a great Indian filmmaker.

In 1958, Ray filmed the first two parts of what was to become The Apu Trilogy. We follow a poor boy from Bengal from his childhood until he moves to Calcutta where he dreams of becoming a writer. Between economic danger and family disasters, Apu takes his path. Interspersed with realistic on-location scenes, illuminated by Subrata Mitra’s photographs, vivid images of Bengali nature and close-ups of faces, the sequence is a high point, an epic that comes to crown the sequence, an emancipation and a willingness to accept modernity in an India in complete transformation, a very sad one.

In many ways, Music Room is the negative ofcan. It is one of the great stories of pride and decline. Its aging hero Biswambhar Roy a zamindar. The aristocrat is proud of his heritage, lording it over lands that have been mercilessly eaten away by the river’s floods. Increasingly lonely, he opposes the modernity represented by his neighbor, Mahim Ganguly, the son of a rising moneylender, and is subjected to minor insults. Set in the 1920s, the story, adapted from a short story by Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, tells the story of a world known to the audience: born in 1950 during the Mughal Empire, these zamindars have a feudal system that continues into the colonial era. was cancelled.

However, Sitting room there is no historic fresco where the small and big history will mix. This is the story of a destructive passion that blinds the world.

We don’t know if it’s his true passion or pride in music that prompts Roy to offer lavish arrangements in the music room despite the increasingly glaring lack of resources. The most famous musicians and dancers of Bengal march in front of a select assembly. Rejecting all the shows his fame-hungry neighbor invites him to, he responds by throwing ever more expensive parties, his arrogance leading to his downfall.

The viewer riveted to Roy’s gaze is like him: locked in the microcosm that is both epicenter and metonymy of the music room, he perceives changes in the outside world only through their rumors and the insolent visits of a neighbor. vulgar nouveau riche. The dilapidated mansion where Roy shuts himself in is shown in a wide shot only ten minutes later. Ray favors interiors and close-ups of his character’s face, the focal point around which many tracking shots converge or begin.

Objects play an important role in this shrunken and dehumanized universe. The stage piece centers the story around a chandelier, a mirror or a boat, on which the play of lights and shadows, accentuated by the highly contrasting black and white and Subrata Mitra’s always superb photography, lends a sometimes fantastical, even spectral aspect. . The return of objects is similar to the motifs of a musical composition, which develop on the same series of notes (this is the principle of raga, this Hindustani classical music that forms the basis of the film).

Thus, nothing changes – Roy’s universe is still the same – but everything changes: the mirror becomes dim, the chandelier that once shone with a thousand lights is covered with a spider’s web, the miniature boat is the image of the opposite fate and its harbinger. the ultimate drama. Like a statue, it is still motionless (often reclining or sitting. action will be tragically sanctioned), Roy seems alien to the passage of time: his first lines say: Ananta, what time is it? Is it spring? And in one of the last scenes, he is surprised that the day has broken. The objects bring it back to reality, but also allow the viewer to find their place in the film’s temporal loops. It is in the large mirror that decorates the music room that the hapless hero will observe with astonishment that he is aging.

In a masterfully composed shot, the same element of scenery allows us to capture the tension between the intimate world and the external world that enlivens the entire film. While he is cornered in the left corner of the image, Roy knows how to position himself in front of the mirror so that the vanishing point drawn by the palace’s columns appears in the center of the outward perspective. a view of the river in the distance. Alone in a desolate universe, a prisoner of places and too many frames, but also of his history (paintings of his ancestors make up many extra frames), the fallen aristocrat gives the impression that he is still master of the world. This man, whose views we see so often, only sees and stages himself in his worn-out realm.

If he does not see, he hears. It is through the ear that this compulsive music lover becomes aware of lives other than his own.

In the first sequence of the film, he suddenly listens tiredly on the roof terrace: where does this music come from? he asks his servant. And Ananta replies that the neighbor is celebrating the initiation of his son. The incident of the impolite escape of the proud aristocrat is remembered by the voice. Thus, the film sets the terms of the competition to be played out through musical events. Ganguly’s visits will soon be heralded by the honking of his new car, and the hum of his generator will become a parasitic sound that tears Roy from his musical dreams. Thus, each new sequence is announced by a sound or music. It is music that captures temporal waves with its almost continuous movement, making it pass from reality to memory or dream, without always determining which image we are dealing with: a dream? memory? present tense? visual feast, Music Room therefore, they stand out as great sound compositions.

And of course there are real show scenes. The tragedy unfolds in three acts, three acts given in the music room. Satyajit Ray, an ardent music lover who would compose the soundtracks of his films since the 60s, is proud of the musicians. The ragas Composed by Ravi Shankar (still unknown) and Ali Akbar Khan. The never-ending finale dance is one last burst of energy and beauty before disaster strikes. This is Roya’s luxurious tomb.

In each of these cases, the hero, who is tense in his hearing, reveals a point of view that we do not know him and that suddenly makes him deeply human. It refers to a person who allows himself to think and knows how the world of emotions comes to him. Nothing is more difficult to play than to listen to: Chhabi Biswas’s performance, both subtle and intense, must be emphasized. Thanks to him, Ray composes a facial expression that is also a lesson in cinema, as Charles Tesson famously put it:

“Ray captures the real morality of the audience with his behavior, which is the opposite of stagecraft. Cinema is not a reenactment of the world, but a transcription of the act of perception. A silent, attentive and passive witness is what characterizes Ryan’s hero, from Apu, who sees behind the scene. Music room. With Ray, perception precedes representation, and even through his characters it is what is always put forward. It is the acuteness of perception that guides, makes the nature of the image aesthetic. What to perceive with Ray, how to be a spectator? Long dance scene Music room ends with the zamindar’s gesture forbidding the host to reward the dancer. If the viewer’s attention is hypnotically captured by the dance performance, Ray shows us in several brief shots the audience in which two spectators appear: the master of the house and his difficult neighbor. In addition to the social difference, for Ray there is an immeasurable gulf between the two audience behaviors. Ray shows the neighbor’s face as a mirror. There is no need for a reverse shot because his behavior is too much of an imitation of what he sees and hears. It is a purely outward surface, which returns to us in its relation a caricature of what it sees, but allows nothing of what it perceives to pass through. The obstinate face, the real wall that the show bounces off of, Ray’s open face against that of the floor, the sieve face that allows the secret pleasure of this music and this dance to penetrate through every pore of the skin.

All the great directors of the portrait, of the face, marvel at the moment of an expression’s direct impression on the skin, and experience the terror of a face riveted to its expression, always there, never happening. .in the face. With someone like Dreyer, it is surprising to see that the facescape, the blank page on the plane on which the subject’s text is given to be read, is inhabited and programmed by the subject’s interior, that the face is this point of emergence. , the place where a movement starts from the inside and goes outside occurs to the viewer who looks at this face. In my opinion, Ray is the only face shot director who films reverse motion from outside to inside. (…) Here, Renoir’s cinema completes and complements Renoir’s device, a filter between the sensibility of perception and the enjoyment of the world, a transformation of the world rather than a place of revelation. Being the face of Zamindar is already like that for Ray, being a director.”

Charles TESSON, Satyajit Ray is 70 years oldEiffel Publications, Brussels, 1991

Therefore, like Roy in this last image, we must allow ourselves to be carried away by the transmitted feelings of a work whose supposed slowness is, to paraphrase Kurosawa, nothing more than a great continuous and irresistible movement that drives us like a madman. tea.

Satyajit Ray, The Music Room.

100 minutes, black and white.

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