7 November 2019

November Films: Thirty Years of Romanian Cinema, a Bengali Great, and Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Selected by J. Hoberman

Satyajit Ray is synonymous with South Asian art cinema. “Poetry and Partition: The Films of Ritwik Ghatak” showcases the other great Bengali filmmaker with digital restorations of his eight feature films. Two are masterpieces: The Cloud-Capped Star (1960), the heartbreaking story of a young woman’s sacrifice for her refugee family, and the ineffably wacky The Pathetic Fallacy, aka Ajantrik (1958), which recounts the bond between a cab driver and his vehicle. The others are uneven but everything this beleaguered artist made is of interest. Film at Lincoln Center, November 1–6.

A work of epic melancholy, The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s strongest movie in decades—a career-capping three-and-a-half-hour gangster yarn that rhymes thematically with his 1990 Goodfellas. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci bring intimations of mortality (as well as their entire history with Scorsese) to the table. Al Pacino, making his first movie with the director, is freer to act out. The heart of the movie, he imbues the character of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa with a predictably high-decibel level of unpredictability. IFC Center, opening November 1.

Showing along with American Dharma, Errol Morris’s controversial documentary-portrait of political strategist Steve Bannon, is Bannon’s favorite movie, the 1949 World War II movie Twelve O’ Clock High, in which Gregory Peck’s tough air force general drives a crew of demoralized bomber pilots (and himself) to the brink of breakdown. As demonstrated in the Morris film, Peck’s character is Bannon’s ego-ideal. Attacked on the left for its fascistic master-class ideology, Twelve O’ Clock High went on to enjoy a long afterlife in corporate leadership training seminars. Film Forum, November 2, 3, 9, and 10.

Celebrating the publication of beat jazz-poet Bob Kaufman’s complete works is a rare screening of Billy Woodberry’s terrific 2015 documentary feature, And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead. Anti-authoritarianism is one thread connecting Kaufman’s New Orleans roots, Communist youth, North Beach apotheosis, New York City breakdown, life on the street, and discovery by French critics as an African-American Rimbaud. The other is the fierce lyricism of his verse. The footage of fifties and sixties San Francisco is fabulous in itself. Anthology Film Archives, November 5.

Marking the thirtieth anniversary of Nicolae Ceausescu’s fall, “The Romanians: 30 Years of Cinema Revolution” is the largest program dedicated to Romanian film ever presented in America. These thirty films also include some of the best made anywhere during the past three decades, including Lucian Pintilie’s The Oak (1992), Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), and Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012). Film Forum, November 15-26.

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