In summation, director's fame is reason enough to see 'Stranger'

November 10, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

It is perhaps a commentary on the frailty of such a thing as a film career that "The Stranger" ("Agantuk") is the first film by the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray to play in Baltimore in my 13-odd years as a film critic. He made six films over that span.

Unlike a novelist, whose books can doze on the back shelves of a Borders or a Bibelot, the world-class filmmaker's work enjoys no real existence except when it plays, and it sadly plays rarely.

Ray died in 1992 after a career spanning four decades, 30 films and an incredible accumulation of awards, respect and admiration. "The Stranger" was his last film. It has the feel of a coda, a summing up.

Evidently quite sick while he made it (according to press notes, an ambulance was always on the set during its filming), Ray keeps the movie sedate, endlessly talky and undynamic. It may get the Jim Carrey backlash vote; that and the Baltimore Indian community would seem to be its most appropriate constituents.

The movie takes off from the arrival of a long-lost uncle to the

middle-class home of the Bose family. Yet the Boses are unsure about the visit: They are obligated by cultural pressures to provide hospitality to kin, but at the same time, the bona fides of the man, whom neither of them can remember, are somewhat in doubt. Is he possibly an impostor?

If so, he's a charming one. Manmohan Mitra (Utpal Dutt) is a world traveler and raconteur who tells tales of his adventures the world over. He particularly beguiles the Boses' 11-year-old son, Satyaki.

Even so, their doubts are unsatisfied, and ultimately they invite a lawyer friend over to "interrogate" the old man, a lengthy encounter that forms the climax of the film, which then builds to a nifty reversal at the end.

"The Stranger" is a refined, perhaps even recondite item, not for all tastes. But it's a chance to encounter the last work of one of the world's most famed directors.

'The Stranger'

Starring: Utpal Dutt and Deepankar De

Directed by: Satyajit Ray

Released by: Filmopolis Pictures

Rating: Unrated

** 1/2

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