The Coward (1965)

Back to Satyajit Ray territory. As half of a double bill (we’ll look at the other half next), this is markedly shorter than anything I’ve seen from him so far, although even at 70-odd minutes I couldn’t exactly escape the feeling he was still spreading his material rather thinly. Our “hero” is Amitabha, a screenwriter for Bengali films, who finds himself stranded after his car breaks down in a somewhat, well, below average town. While waiting for repairs, he accepts the hospitality of Bimal, the local tea plantation owner, a genial albeit somewhat boorish pisshead, and his wife Karuna. The latter, remarkably enough, just so happens to have been Amitabha’s old flame from a few years earlier, at which time he became the coward of the title; basically she looked to him to save her from being taken to another town by her family, and, well, he didn’t exactly rush to help her in her hour of need. Which, incidentally, is why I don’t like how the DVD itself translates the title Kapurush as “The Bad Man”; I don’t think Amitabha acts, or rather fails to act, out of badness necessarily but weakness, and it’s clear that his failure has repercussions for him as much as it does her. What does Bimal make of all this? That’s a question Ray leaves hanging throughout the second half of the film, giving the character various lines that may or may not hint that he knows something’s going on… Otherwise, what we have here is basically a short story stretched a bit further than it can really manage even in its short running time (and yes, it moves as slowly as the other Rays we saw recently), with an occasionally theatrical tone probably enhanced by the fact that it is, essentially, a three-hander. Nice enough, though not as substantial as it perhaps might’ve been. Still, at least it’s only just over one hour instead of over two…

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