Jaime Rebanal’s review published on Letterboxd:
Satyajit Ray, arguably the most influential filmmaker to have come out from India, made his debut with Pather Panchali, one of the greatest coming-of-age tales to have been put to the screen. With Pather Panchali, he also begins what soon grew to become one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, the Apu trilogy. Never has the essence of life been pictured on the screen in such a heartbreaking manner, as what Satyajit Ray presents in Pather Panchali is quite arguably one of the most harrowing pictures of such devastating living conditions, only to be all the more horrifying to think about as Ray adopts the perspective of a child who is growing up within such a life. Yet there are more reasons as to why Satyajit Ray's journey is such a wonderfully compelling one at that.
This is the first in a series of films that revolve around a boy named Apu Roy. Satyajit Ray starts everything out on a small scale, but with the small space that he occupies, he tells a story of a family living through poverty from the perspective of this young boy named Apu. Although the film adopts the point of view from Ray's protagonist, the power comes in from how what he is seeing turns into a world for which the viewers can immerse themselves with. Ray's vision is inspired by that of neorealism, in which he is showing every nook and cranny of the lower-class lifestyle and in turn uses such an appearance in order to have its own viewers placed within the world which is formed. Right there is only a small part in where Pather Panchali has earned its power. Working on an extremely limited budget also helped in the manner that it added a feeling of authenticity to the final product.
Pather Panchali's power comes from the delicacy of the subject matter to which it deals with. Like the films of the Italian neorealist movement, it is a tale of poverty and how people living in such conditions try to make the best of what they have available. Satyajit Ray also leaves behind a great coming of age tale from how he watches his own protagonist, Apu, live within a family that suffers from poverty, and in this stage, we see him as a child. Ray observes Apu as he loses his own innocence as he grows up, much like that of an everyday child - but adding the pain endured from living amongst such conditions mends together a more psychological aspect to this tale which Ray utilizes to his own benefit. Exploring the many facets of the relationships between family members, a wonderful tale of family values is present.
Looking at the film from Satyajit Ray's focus upon Apu is another aspect that draws such wonder. Ray cast Subir Banerjee after his wife had discovered him playing on the roof of a building near their apartment. It remains Banerjee's only film appearance to date but what is left behind is truly one of, if not, the greatest performance from a child actor ever to be captured on film. As we are watching Subir Banerjee's performance, we are not only witnessing a child living within a poor family but we are also watching a child as he is discovering the world as more uncertainty comes along the way for him. Subir Banerjee is not so much acting anymore as opposed to having adopted the character of Apu by blood - living within the troubles he is enduring. And to think it is only the start of a journey is where something all the more captivating is coming out of Ray's dedication to the character.
The mannerisms to Satyajit Ray's minimalistic approach to Pather Panchali are all the more impressive when one considers how it is indeed a directorial debut, for what he also shows is some of the very best examples of storytelling ever to grace the screen. Adapting the story from the novel of the same name by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Satyajit Ray tells not only of a family but also what they experience and the uncertainty that has come along from what is already too overwhelming for them to go through. Pather Panchali is not merely a coming-of-age tale but also a story that goes beyond the ordinary in which we also have a film that is about struggling under such conditions and what happens when the unexpected comes along, and how it plays to a greater effect in the lives of every member.
Admittedly I am not the most well-rounded when it comes to Indian cinema, but it would not surprise me if Pather Panchali (or the entire Apu trilogy for the matter) is truly among the very best of their offerings. The first moment in which I did experience Pather Panchali, it left something upon myself which I couldn't describe, because I've never witnessed such purity on film before. It is truly one of the greatest tales of poverty and growing up to have ever been put on the screen. In English, the title Pather Panchali translates to "song of the little road." This film indeed is a beautiful song, but the road may not be as little as it says it is - as we have only started a journey unlike any other for both the viewer and the artist.