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“Essential” Moviegoing

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: “Cléo From 5 to 7,” Janus Films]

Seeing the Janus icon before a movie builds the same kind of anticipation for the art-house crowd that the hopping lamp of the Pixar logo elicits from amped-up children (and some adults). Janus has acquired the cream of the world’s art cinema for 50 years, cultivating a large library while adapting to each advancement in viewing technology, from 16mm to laserdiscs to DVD. The repertory houses in NYC have filled their schedules with Janus gems this autumn, from the Walter Reade’s comprehensive series that ran alongside the New York Film Festival to the IFC Center’s upcoming year-long Weekend Classics tribute. For those of you in the rest of the world, Criterion has released a handsome 50-film set entitled “Essential Art House,” the discs nestled alongside a 240-page book of comprehensive background notes. The ideal way to view these masterworks, though, is on the big screen. These are films to lose oneself in — pausing them to eat dinner or scold the kids could easily disrupt their subtle rhythms.

The IFC Center begins their series on November 22 with a new 35mm print of Agnès Varda’s “Cléo From 5 to 7,” a French New Wave wonder from 1961 — also the year of Francois Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” and Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad.” “Cléo” hasn’t established a foothold in the pantheon like those two, but it should. Corinne Marchand plays Cléo, a vain Yé-Yé pop singer (like Chantal Goya in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Masculin Féminin”), who impatiently wanders the Paris streets for two hours until she calls upon her doctor for the results of an unnamed medical test. She believes she has inoperable cancer. Taking place in an approximation of real time (it runs a little over an hour and a half), the film follows her encounters with friends, lovers and strangers as the clock winds down until she discovers the result. Considering the subject matter, it is improbably buoyant, as Varda expertly employs the language of the New Wave, from location shooting to jump cuts to multiple narrative digressions (most famously, Godard and Anna Karina act in a silent comedy short that Cléo watches at a theater).

Early on it’s not clear if she’s simply being dramatic — Varda packs the early scenes with mirrors: Cléo eyes herself at every diner, haberdasher, and shop window. This illness could be a childish ploy for attention — a conclusion her composer and lyricist come to when they crash her place, donning fake hospital attire complete with oversized syringe. Their arrival marks the first tonal shift, from mournful soul-searching to a light-hearted musical comedy. Scored by the great Michel Legrand, it soars with clever wordplay, hummable tunes, and an elegantly tracking camera. Then the lyricist suggests she sing his latest work, “Cry of Love,” whose opening piano trills foreshadow the swooping melodrama of Legrand’s work on Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (Demy would marry Varda in 1962). The camera pans past the two guests and tilts up towards Cleo, framing her against a black background as she laments the death of a relationship. It’s a stunning moment — for me and for Cléo, as afterward she rips off her wig and stalks out, hiding her moment of self-realization underneath a tantrum. Her façade is breaking down.

The final third of the film completes her transformation, as she bends her will for the love of another — and there’s no more romantic meet-cute scene in history than when the hyper-articulate Antoine seals their fate over a bridge. The test result comes in — but by then it’s beside the point — the final shot of euphoric union could make any hardened pseudo-intellectual’s heart go pitter pat.

After “Cléo,” the IFC Center offers up the Japanese horror story “Kwaidan” (1964), Carlos Saura’s “Cria Cuervos” (1976), Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957), and Jean Cocteau’s enchanting version of “Beauty and the Beast” (1946). More is promised, so happy viewing.

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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

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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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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

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