Two For the Road (1967): Stanley Donen is a fascinating figure—a choreographer who became one of the top directors of classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and Easter Parade. He started with a clean, formalist style, but when postmodernism swept into popular cinema in the ’60s, he went right along with it. Suddenly he employed hyperediting, crazy zooms and, with this bouncy-brutal dramedy, a complete reimagining of the flashback romance. Instead of someone reminiscing from the present, as in Brief Encounter, Road jumps around the timeline of an ill-fit marriage between a brusque architect (Albert Finney) and his increasingly sour wife (Audrey Hepburn), hopping relentlessly between reverie, anger and the many in-between emotions in a manner as thrillingly innovative as it is brazenly honest.
Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968): Two For the Road at least has a structure; the relationship in this, a particularly nutty experiment from Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad), unfolds on shuffle. A recent would-be suicide (Claude Rich) becomes a guinea pig for a time machine; a malfunction causes him to revisit snippets of his life, including his life with his ex-girlfriend, in a maddeningly random loop.
Betrayal (1983): Harold Pinter adapted his play, which arranges an affair—between Jeremy Irons and Patricia Hodge, with Ben Kingsley as cuckold—in reverse, from breakup to first flirtation.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): In which Charlie Kaufman cribbed bits of Two For the Road and Je t’aime, je t’aime to create a movie I’ll never watch again.
(500) Days of Summer (2009): In which a few young turks (one destined for the Spider-Man reboot) cribbed bits of Two For the Road and Je t’aime, je t’aime to create a movie I’ll never watch again.
Blue Valentine (2010): Now they’re falling in love. Now they’re heading for divorce. Repeat for 114 minutes. Derek Cianfrance’s Sundance fave is sadistic and schematic but—especially because of Cassavetian turns from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams—hard to fully resist.