THE BRANCHES OF THE TREE (Satyajit Ray, 1990)

Although Satyajit Ray claimed to have written it much earlier, Shakha Proshakha (Family Reunion), his penultimate film, centers on widower Ananda Majumdar, likewise about 70 and also bedridden from a heart attack. (Ray was near death when he became India’s only filmmaker to get an Oscar.) This sudden illness brings vistors: three sons and his two daughters-in-law; a mentally ill son, Prashanto (Soumitra Chatterjee, barely recognizable) already lives with him. Ananda, having rigorously taught them scrupulousness, is exceptionally proud of his successful sons. All the while believing that their father himself has been the model of integrity, however, two of his sons have made their money “dishonestly,” corruptly, and the third has quit his needed job, disgusted upon learning that a co-worker is dishonest and corrupt. Ananda had thought that his sons would morally compensate for his sins, redeeming him, but now each in fact reflects that sinfulness, including Prashanto, who almost seems a projection of his father’s guilt. Ananda, learning of the visitors’ quarrels about “honest” vs. “dishonest” money from his innocent little grandson, relapses after considerable recovery.
     Absorbing, painfully ironical, and rich rather than schematic, the film is excellent throughout. Perhaps the most astonishing passage, though, is the one in which brothers and wives picnic. The beauty of the woods, through which they first take a nostalgic walk, moves their spirits toward reconciliation and harmony; but during the picnic itself, the men, seated on the ground, collapse again into their egos, unearthing old quarrels and fraternal competitiveness about who back when received more parental love. The youngest is 34; these are presumably grown men.
     Deeply moving: after the others depart, the closeup of the clasp of hands between Ananda and Prashanto. “I have only you,” father tells his now-responsive son.

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