Jeffrey Cheng Stewart’s review published on Letterboxd:
More than holds up upon rewatch and will no doubt continue to astound any and all audiences for the rest of time.
Satyajit Ray's glorious and poignant acclaimed debut acts as one of the single best announcements to the world cinema stage that took notice of a bright new star in India to worldwide audiences' unending benefit. A complete tour-de-force in terms of craft, acting, imagery, and emotion that is an encapsulation of unique experiences with this poverty-stricken family but strikes a universal chord. In a small Bengal village the Ray family welcomes a newborn boy Apu (Subir Bannerjee), his family is comprised of Father Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) is a jobless poet, Mother Sarbojaya (Karuna Bannerjee) makes do but their rebellious daughter Durga (Uma Das Gupta) causes headaches to no end with her tween antics, and eccentric senior Auntie Indir (Chunibala Devi). The tight-knit Brahmin family makes do just barely scraping by at below poverty levels and is constantly reminded of their lower social status by their neighbors but these understandings are beyond Apu's perspective as he passes the time with household chores and trying to keep up with his older sister. With the monsoon season quickly approaching Harihar suddenly decides to travel to the city in hopes of finding better opportunities leaving his family to fend for themselves in the meantime. It's time for Apu to grow up faster than he ever wanted to.
Essentially plotless but driven narratively by the natural performances from the non-professional child actors and thematically with the imagery relating the dichotomy between the human and natural worlds add to the neo-realism of the struggles facing this family and their village while never feeling heavy-handed or saccharine. The vibrant black and white cinematography perfectly capture the dense natural world that engulfs the characters and their household. The fragile balance of the shadows and light thru the jungle canopy immerse us further into Ray's humanitarian vision. Ravi Shankar's sitar and rhythmic drums score reflects the pulse of the setting and tone beautifully. The filmmakers without distracting gloss or starkness grant us a window into a family on the edge of simply surviving day-to-day. Portraying the strong bonds of love and care when everything else is scarce.
Made on a shoe-string budget over the course of several years Ray's film debut is a genuine labor of love. The director gained little financially from it but both the national and intentional attention more than compensated him down the road with the two followups and a grand film career. The first entry in the Apu Trilogy is an essential movie watch that wonderfully resonates across geography, culture, and time itself.