The Magical Restoration of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Apu Trilogy’

A remarkable job has been completed restoring damaged Satyajit Ray film negatives!

Satyajit Ray is an Indian filmmaker regarded as one of the greatest directors ever. He made a range of stunningly beautiful films from the 50s through to the early 90s.

When he passed away in 1992, at the age of 70, great effort was made to preserve the original negatives of his films which were already beginning to deteriorate rapidly.

They were sent to the Henderson’s Film Laboratories in London. Due to the highly flammable nature of film, a nitrate explosion sparked a fire in 1993, and the negatives were seriously damaged, and deemed ruined and unusable.

Satyajit Ray / Bengali Film Director. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Bengali film director, Satyajit Ray. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

The Apu Trilogy severely damaged in a fire. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

The ‘Apu Trilogy’ was severely damaged in a fire. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

The Academy of Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences preserved the burnt film. Ten years later in 2013, Criterion discovered almost half the film is salvageable. The film got sent to L’lmmagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, where they rehydrated the film, repaired it, and scanned it in at 4K.

The labour intensive task of reconstructing sprocket holes and splices. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

The labor-intensive task of reconstructing sprocket holes and splices. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Technicians spent about 1,000 hours reconstructing sprocket holes and splices, removing glue, tape, and wax. And last but not least, Criterion Restoration Laboratory put back together the trilogy frame by frame, and digitally it is restored. The task required great patience, care, and skill to complete the kind of restoration work.

Criterion Restorative Lab. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Criterion Restorative Lab. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

The Apu Trilogy is one of the finest examples of the Parallel Cinema movement, which took place in India in the 50s, and stepped away from mainstream Bollywood style cinema, and was much more influenced by Italian Neo-Realism (real life).

The first film from The Apu Trilogy is about the maturation of Apu, a small boy in a Bengali village. It was based on a semi-autobiographical Bengali novel Pather Panchali (1928). All three are coming-of-age stories following Apu’s life.

Before and After / The incredible job done to restore these negatives.  (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Before and after: The incredible job done to restore these negatives. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

This month is great for lovers of the trilogy, along with those about to discover these films for the first time. These newly restored versions have just been re-released in cinemas!

Before and After / The fire damaged negative is to the right. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Before and after: The fire-damaged negative is to the right. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

What I like about his films is the coming together of beauty and regard—Mira Nair

Before and After / The blacks are so rich in the restoration.  (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Before and After / The blacks are so rich in the restoration. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

If I could see only one film from The Apu Trilogy this month, my pick would be Pather Panchali, which means Song of the Little Road in Bengali. What would yours be?

Before and After / Main character Apu can be seen with such clarity. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Before and after: The main character Apu can be seen with such clarity. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or moon—Akira Kurasowa

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