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Strangers in the Night

Strangers in the Night (photo)

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Forget Who’s Your Favorite Beatle, or Who’s Your Favorite Monkee, or even Who’s Your Favorite Little Rascal (for me, it’s Wheezer, God save him) — if you ask someone What’s Your Favorite French New Wave Landmark and they say Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), you’d better start a endless tab for cocktails, hunker down for a long and glorious night of gamesmanship and bedevilment, and forget about tomorrow. Famous as the über-art film openly mocked by Pauline Kael and the authors of “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time,” Resnais’ saturnine masterpiece remains exactly the film experience it was originally intended to be: a dream inside a puzzle inside a story that never actually takes place. Is there a better, more eloquent way to define movies?

Cavils are absurd, because “Marienbad” so obviously avoids being a “normal” movie in every frame. On the most fundamental level, it’s a ravishing formal achievement, patrolling in drunken, swoony slow-motion through the Neoclassical hallways, ballrooms and elaborate gardens of an apparently infinite hotel-palace, a stomach-churning, cobbled-together location that’s the film’s most vivid character (decadent but hollow), and a fantastically expressive statement about wealth, class, narcissism and the dying European aristocracy. (Kael lovingly slammed the film as a “Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe party.”)

Resnais began as a liberal documentarian, and the architectural hyperbole of “Marienbad” is no accident. But the core of the film is, of course, more mysterious than that: it’s an exercise, or a triathlon, on the very slipperiness of narrative, and therefore of memory. Or vice-versa. Within this cavernous maze of ornate filigree and looming artworks, the comatose guests stalk or sometimes just stand, and we follow one such tuxedoed zombie (Giorgio Albertazzi) as he attempts to make a woman (Delphine Seyrig) remember that they had, in fact, met and engaged in a romance the previous year, maybe in Marienbad, maybe here. He spins yarns and speculations like a talkative Beckett character, she toys with him, plays along, he doubts his memories, moments and slices of dialogue repeat themselves, and the film never establishes anything “happening” in the present tense — just a rumored sense of a past that might never have been.

06302009_LastYearAtMarienbad2.jpgResnais’ movie (written and conceived by nouveau roman pope Alain Robbe-Grillet) is both a hypnotic trance to endure and a text intended to be interpreted in an infinite variety of ways; it was the latter aspect that made the movie both spectacularly popular back in a more adventurous filmgoing age and vulnerable to lowbrow attack. But think of Beckett and Calvino and Sartre, and you get closer to the film’s accomplishment; the great existentialist questions on hand are easy to scoff at, but are also still harrowingly difficult to answer. What allowed the movie to rock bourgeois worlds in the early ’60s (the ample Criterion supplements document the film’s reception as attentively as its production) was its daring evacuation of narrative orthodoxy, asking us to wonder if anything in the film is “real” (such a silly question, but one that still drives viewers nuts), and to understand meta-characters who seem to be talking about “now” as if it already happened, or has already been imagined, and may already be forgotten.

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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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