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DID YOU READ

Heavenly Menages a Trois

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By Andrea Meyer

IFC News

The other night I watched “Days of Heaven” for the millionth time. An exaggeration, of course, but it is one of my favorite films, and I went through a period when I would watch it every time I was bored or in need of inspiration. With a new print currently screening at the Film Forum in New York, it was time to see Terrence Malick’s near-perfect film again. As the credits rolled, after thinking, as usual, that it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made, it occurred to me that there’s nothing more powerful in the movies than a love triangle.

In the film, Bill (Richard Gere), a factory worker, leaves Chicago to work on a farm in the Texas panhandle with his sister (Linda Manz) and girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), who poses as a family member to avoid gossip. When they learn that the farmer (Sam Shepard), who has taken a liking to Abby, is terminally ill, they decide to stay on when the other seasonal workers have gone, seizing an opportunity for a more comfortable life. Abby marries the farmer and the foursome live heavenly days until the triangle barely supporting them crumbles, pushing all three characters toward tragedy.

Terrence Malick is a brilliant writer and director whose breathtaking compositions (captured by über-DP Nestor Alemendros, who won the 1978 Oscar for the film), patient editing style and signature narration — Manz’s childishly innocent, funny and insightful narration is a masterpiece in itself — but let’s be honest: As far as subjects go, there are few situations — in art or in life — that are more loaded with potential for drama than the love triangle. “Days of Heaven” is one of the best, but the plot device has driven many other movies, many great, many small.

Most common is the simple story of a nice guy/girl who’s torn between two lovers: the wrong one, who likely has certain compelling attributes like parental approval rating or a real job, and the right one, a.k.a. the soul mate, who likely lives right under the lead’s nose but goes sadly unnoticed as she/he is busy being dazzled by Mr./Ms Wrong. Think: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Sabrina,” “Reality Bites,” Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Or alternatively, Soul Mate stumbles upon Nice Guy/Girl’s path unexpectedly, subsequently messing up plans often matrimonial in nature: “The Wedding Planner,” “Arthur,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “A Room with a View.” If this is a romantic comedy, and often it is, generally all’s well that ends well and Nice Guy/Girl winds up in the arms that are destined to hold him/her until death do they part. And mean/stupid/boring Mr./Ms Wrong runs off with someone suitably mean/stupid/boring — or into a hole all by his/her lonesome where he/she probably belongs.

Then again, some of the more interesting love triangles aren’t so warm, cuddly or predictable, often involving cheating spouses. In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Tomas loves both his wife (Juliette Binoche) and his long-time mistress (Lena Olin). Frederick in “Chloé in the Afternoon” toys with the idea of playing with a nubile young thing, only to confirm that he still loves his wife. In “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,” a young wife falls for the suicidal brother of her husband, whom she also loves. While generally these situations settle themselves in favor of one of the prospective life mates, in some unfortunate cases, when easy excision of one of the triangle’s sides is not a possibility, somebody winds up dead. See “Unfaithful,” “Diaboliques,” “Deathtrap,” “Amantes.”

And then there are the really interesting cinematic three-way love affairs, those that don’t fit into any particular mold, tapping into the emotions ranging from the jealousy to bliss to homicidal rage that can occur when she loves him but he loves her, or he loves them both, or she can’t decide which one she loves best, which brings us back to “Days of Heaven,” one of the most devastating love triangle tales on film. (Then again, as I mentioned, it’s practically perfect.) Other refreshingly genre-bending tales of three-way love include Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons,” which stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close as bored aristocrats in 18th century France who play with people’s lives as if they were hamsters in a habitrail, often through the art of seduction. Close shudders with glee, for example, when Malkovich beds a blushing bride-to-be (Uma Thurman) whose fiancé she once loved. She licks her lips, too, when he prepares to seduce a devout married woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) — but can she handle it if her partner in crime and in bed falls in love?

Other atypically appealing love triangles include “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the poetic soldier with a warm heart and enormous schnoz whose heartbreaking story has been depicted again and again, most famously by Gérard Depardieu (and by Steve Martin in the comically uplifting version, “Roxanne”). Cyrano loves Roxanne, but she yearns for the fine-featured Christian, who woos her with letters written by none other than Cyrano. Nobody wins in this triangular tale. Lessons are learned in “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” in which two teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) embark on an adventure with a sexy older woman (Maribel Verdú) that leaves their friendship forever altered. And in what is often considered the greatest love triangle of all, François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” which also has best friends falling for the same girl, the Bohemian lovefest must inevitably and tragically come to an end — as do the days of heaven.

What makes Malick’s vision as powerful as Truffaut’s is the compassion we feel for all the characters involved. Nobody is wrong — they just act from the gut and the heart. And there is no clear wrong man or right man for Abby. Both are handsome and kind and both adore her. So who does not empathize as Bill watches his Abby marry another man? Or feel the farmer’s rage when he witnesses a kiss between Bill and his wife that is far from brotherly? And what about the girl caught between them, who is less given a point of view than the role of emotional catalyst for a violent, almost primal battle between two very different men — one gentle, one rash; one rich, one poor; both passionately in love with her? How can we not feel for this woman who pledges eternal fidelity to another man at the behest of her lover, only to find herself falling a little bit in love with the one who provides for her? With no reasonable resolution in sight, what heart does not ache as three people in love hurtle themselves toward inevitable doom?

“Day of Heaven” is playing at the Film Forum in New York through April 27 (official site).

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…