Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: Agantuk
India/France, 1991. National Film Development Corporation, Canal+, DD Productions, Erato Films. Screenplay by Satyajit Ray, based on his story. Cinematography by Barun Raha. Produced by Gerard Depardieu, Satyajit Ray, Daniel Toscan du Plantier. Music by Satyajit Ray. Production Design by Ashoke Bose. Costume Design by Lalita Ray. Film Editing by Dulal Dutta.
The last film by the great Satyajit Ray fits well within the legacy of beautifully humane stories he told throughout his working life, bouncing him back from the relatively cold experience of An Enemy Of the People. A well-to-do Calcutta couple receive a letter from wife Anila’s uncle announcing that he is coming for a visit. Uncle Manomohan Mitra (played with great, mischievous charm by Utpal Dutt) left home thirty-five years ago and has not been seen by his family since, having spent his years wandering the globe. Anila was a baby when he left and she doesn’t know him, raising concern with her husband Sudhindra that she might not even know if the man who shows up at their door is really her uncle or an imposter. Their house is full of priceless works of art that he might want to steal, or worse, what if he is coming after the inheritance left him by her grandfather that he never collected? Manomohan instantly charms the household upon arrival, becoming a source of fascinating tales of faraway lands for their son, who listens to him enraptured, as well as drawing the interest of friends who are dying to come over and meet him. The hosting couple gradually let their suspicions fade away but increase their bewilderment with this man who seems to find life experience far more valuable than material possessions, unable to understand how he loves the life on the road more than something more stable. At times, this film tests even the most devoted viewers’ patience, there are a few sequences of intelligent conversation that go on a bit too long, but the magnificent performances bring out the subtleties of Ray’s perceptive and frequently touching examination of family, happiness and security. The conclusion, among the most tender and moving in the great director’s career, is a beautiful way to say goodbye not only to this wonderful tale but also to this filmmaker so very beloved by his most ardent fans.