Setter’s ‘Spectives: Labeling Tragic Masterpieces Correctly

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I think we should start calling sad movies something else if they’re good enough.

It’s really a misnomer. The greatest films—even those surrounding the most tragic subjects–are elating, not painful. They don’t make me unhappy. They make me glad.

That’s how I felt after watching Satyajit Ray’s masterful Pather Panchali on TCM last night. It was the second time I’ve seen it, and despite the harrowing story—which concerns the struggles of an impoverished Bengali family as they try to make ends meet—I wasn’t upset by the time the devastating end came. Instead, I was ecstatic, overjoyed that I could watch such a film and immerse myself in it.

The pleasures were myriad: a hypnotic, wistful score by Ravi Shankar; superb cinematography that made me feel like I was living in an Indian village along with everyone else; terrific acting by a magnificent cast (I dare you not to be moved at the end); and a simple yet profound script providing astute social commentary without belaboring the viewer.

No, these are qualities to revel in, not be sad about. And I reveled in them accordingly, all the while wondering if there’s another name we can give this kind of film—a name that conveys its subject matter concisely while suggesting there’s no need to mourn the protagonists … just its ending, which warrants tears only because there’s no more movie left.

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