The Cloud-Capped Star
Directed by the visionary Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, The Cloud-Capped Star tells the story of a family that has been uprooted by the Partition of India and come to depend on its eldest daughter, the self-sacrificing Neeta (Supriya Choudhury). She watches helplessly as her own hopes and desires are pushed aside time and again by those of her siblings and parents, until all her chances for happiness evaporate, leaving her crushed and sickly. Experimenting with off-balance compositions, discontinuous editing, and a densely layered soundtrack, Ghatak devised an intellectually ambitious and emotionally devastating new shape for the melodrama, lamenting the tragedies of Indian history and the inequities of traditional gender roles while blazing a formal trail for the generations of Indian filmmakers who have followed him.
The Criterion Collection presents Ritwik Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K restoration undertaken by Criterion and The Film Foundation, and sourced primarily from the 35mm original camera negative, which also contained inserts from a duplicate negative. For portions badly deteriorated or missing a 35mm print from the Library of Congress was used in place.
The portions sourced from the Library of Congress print stand out: they look dupey and fuzzy, have heavier scratches, and has harder blacks. Outside of these instances some source problems also occur, but they’re minimal: a few light scratches and bits of damage here and there, some darker shots making finer blemishes more apparent, and Transitions between scenes still show heavy scratches. Outside of these moments, though, the materials are in stunning condition and any damage is really more the exception rather than the rule.
The picture is also shockingly crisp and clean, with long shots also delivering a high level of detail (outside of the moments sourced from the alternate print). Blacks are, quite surprisingly, very deep and inky, and whites are bright without blooming. The encode is also incredibly clean, rendering grain superbly with no sign of noise. In the end I was expecting source issues but was surprised how clean this ends up being in the end. It’s an incredible looking restoration and a beautiful looking encode.
The film’s audio is delivered in lossless PCM 1.0 mono. Damage isn’t a concern at all (no pops, no crackling, no drops), and the track on the whole is clean, but it’s incredibly tinny and flat, with no fidelity or range at all. Music also sounds a bit distorted and edgy. Ultimately this comes down more to the original materials but the clean-up has still been thorough.
The only Ghatak film Criterion has released previously is A River Called Titas, available in the first volume of their World Cinema series, and only had a few features. With this being their first single release for the director I figured they might go all out but disappointingly that’s not the case, this title only having one significant feature: a discussion between filmmakers Saeed Akhtar Mirza and Kumar Shahani, who both studied under Ghatak. The lengthy 29-minute discussion features the two talking about Ghatak’s work, its importance, how it influenced them, and then go into detail about the film itself. Since they were also taught by him they can offer a more personal perspective as well. This, mixed with a stills gallery presenting a collection of photos around Ghatak, his life, and work (provided by the grandniece of Ghatak’s wife), offers a great, more personal look at the director, but I was hoping for some other academic material, and I’m surprised there isn’t much else here outside of an essay written by Ira Bhaskar going over the director and the film’s structure and performances.
Disappointingly the title only receives a couple of features but at the very least the restoration and encode are gorgeous, making this an easy one to recommend.