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In a Reflective Mood

In a Reflective Mood (photo)

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When world-class writers get to the last fifth or so of their career trajectory, after having put in four or more decades building their monuments, they often give themselves permission to write a memoir, a summing up, an attempt to gaze back and figure out how life and art have fought and entangled and rhymed over the lifetime. As they should.

Filmmakers rarely do this, and it’s a pity — what we wouldn’t have done for an autumnal self-examination from Luis Buñuel (we got a book, but not a film) or Orson Welles, and consider how lucky we’d be today if Jacques Rivette or Werner Herzog decided to venture backwards this way, inspecting the weave of creativity, history, personal tumult and movie love.

Chris Marker, of course, has been doing this all along, albeit rather impersonally, and his distinct approach may’ve ultimately been what compelled his pal and compatriot Agnès Varda, past her 50th year of moviemaking, to create “The Beaches of Agnès,” which is nothing if not a swan song. (The DVD box says “from the director of ‘The Gleaners & I’ and ‘Cléo from 9 to 5,'” briskly evoking a span of 40 solid years.) The one major woman filmmaker at work in the French New Wave, Varda has been for ages a sturdy, generous and astute female sensibility in a messy film culture usually overtaken with masculine whim, simultaneously embracing and feministically angry, and watching this new film, as with “The Gleaners & I,” is quite like contemplating the world over wine with an anarchist aunt.

03152010_BeachesofAgnes3.jpgWe’re all better for having had Varda present and busy on the cultural stage, even if we don’t know it — her brand of savvy, maternal humanity helped season and sweeten the discourse, which she has engaged in as a documentarian, short-film dynamo, photographer and installation artist as well. The new movie is an unabashedly octogenarian reverie, in which Varda daytrips through her life, accompanied by hordes of friends and family, trapeze artists, actors playing out scenes from her life (there are a half-dozen or more little Agnèses), beachcombers, cats, potatoes, Chris Marker’s cartoon cat avatar (as per usual, Marker does not put himself on camera, but we do get a vintage photo, stepping off a motorcycle in a leather jacket), and so on.

I’m not so doped on nostalgia that Varda’s cuddly-elderly dancing across beach sand or walking backwards away from the camera through crowds seems like art to me, but it is, as she says, “a game,” an exploratory jaunt, a thoroughly unpretentious sport that tests cinema’s capacities as a memory machine. If, at times, Varda seems to be indulging herself, practically winking at the camera, you can hardly blame her, and, anyway, the entire thrust of New Wave thinking demanded that movies be as free and impulsive and elusive as life. In this case, it’s an 80-year-old’s life. If you’re smart, you’d step up with a measure of respect and patience, and come away with armloads of stuff as a result.

03152010_BeachesofAgnes1.jpgThat stuff is dominated by a rueful contemplation of time and aging, and of the necessity for the artist to relentlessly build his or her own life, and by the memory of Varda’s husband Jacques Demy, who died in 1990 and with whom she shared her best years making movies and growing a family (two activities that Varda heroically conjoined).

Along the way, we get Alexander Calder, Jean-Luc Godard (sans glasses!), Alain Resnais, Jim Morrison, Viva (nude, in Varda’s “Lions Love”), Jane Birkin and Laura Betti doing Laurel & Hardy, tons of film clips (from both Demy’s and Varda’s filmographies), the story of the making of “Jacquot” (still Varda’s best movie) with Demy as he was slowly dying of AIDS, children and grandchildren, graveside eulogies, etc. It’s less a movie than a warm little nugget of life-stuff in your hand, and by the end, you feel as though you’ve made a friend.

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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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