Le Weekend – Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi bring back a little Godard. (Film Review)
Sometimes there is a thinness in who we purport to be. The post modern relief for anxiety is meant to be the project, our work, our relationship, our children, the stuff of life that we build are meant to give us meaning, not just occupy our time until we die, but one of the agonising problems of life is that even if you do simply tread water till the end, or even if you do immerse yourself in the passion intense projects can bring, the result is the same; one still feels isolated, fearful and as though no real difference has been made. How do we not turn that bitterness against the unlucky other who has chosen either by passion or obligation to stand beside you for their whole wretched journey? If Hanif Kureishi has made a name for himself as a script writer by working on projects about infidelity that he claims aren’t autobiographical, in Le Weekend, he sets his unflinching gaze on monogamy – of the long, endless kind.
Nick Burrows (Jim Broadbent) and Meg Burrows (Lindsay Duncan) are in Paris for the weekend, and we get the impression this is a replica of an earlier successful tryst, possibly a honeymoon, that he is trying to recreate and she is resisting. Both are as dissatisfied with their marriage as they are with the rest of their lives, and on the verge of adding a failed marriage to the list of life’s disappointments. At first Nick’s affable sweetness seems harshly treated by Meg’s intermittent eruptions of frustration and anger, but as the film progresses, and the excellent performances take us deeper into each separate human, we find Nick’s cheer is born of a gelatinous cling that demands Meg play shrew to his hopeless Mr Nice Guy. Equally, Meg’s frigidity is sometimes painful to watch, as Nick’s complete lack of sex appeal means there exists between them a one-sided sexuality where she provides all the inspiration, he all the desire, she all the resistance and he all the clumsy half-hearted moves. They’ve stymied themselves into a mediocrity that reflects their only partially achieved ambitions, their hopeless kids and their lost youth and each fear and long to be finally rid of the other as if that might put an end to the pain.
Despite appearances there is much to celebrate in the relationship, and although both recognise this, neither can pause to enjoy what they have built, but the audience can see it. It does become a frustrating watch, the couple’s banter has the wit and charm of bright people who’ve spent so much time together they riff off each other in improv delightfully, but ennui is a pervasive disease and when coupled with the invisible tally’s each individual keep inside that act as barometer for their goodness and cruelty, the situation becomes a mass of distortions and overlayed meaning that wander back and forth through the entire time of the relationship. Of particular note is Lindsay Duncan’s face, as the camera sits watching her response to the accusation of infidelity by her husband. The look of shock because she wears her monogamy like a badge is nothing compared to the look of disdain because she thought she successfully wielded her monogamy like a weapon. To find that he assumed she cheated, that her sacrifice was worthless and that he never experienced the gratitude she assumed gave her a moral superiority and consequently permission to be occasionally mean invites a psyche collapse that Miss Duncan wears across her face with perfection. Kureishi and Roger Michell have been making films together for a long time, but in Duncan and Broadbent they have exactly the right cast to fulfill their vision. Therefore what could be intense and tawdry turns into a witty masterclass in the problems two separate people have in trying to be one.
Welcome also is the fun and sense of caprice the pair embrace as they both experience the feeling that they may not come out of the weekend as a couple. In parts the banter becomes Allen-esque, and its a real pleasure to see this subject matter treated so faithfully by someone other than Woody Allen. As if to reinforce an American fascination with relationships, Jeff Goldblum comes in part way through the film as a long-lost Cambridge buddy of Nicks, and his empty gestured American stands in stark contrast to the couples very British search for authenticity and truth, and yet Morgan (Goldblum) has many of the trappings of success Nick both admires and has disdain for. The conversations that take place between Morgan and Nick, posit the different approaches to life, Morgan being the fraud who achieves, constantly engaging in the most superficial way, and Nick being the truth seeker, a man engaged with authenticity to his own unhappiness, who is also an underachieveer.
A final note about the New Wave homage, as a tie back to a youth culture Meg and Nick miss rather than long for. Much of the films inspiration comes from Godard’s film Weekend, including the amoral dip into class warfare (Meg and Nick run out of money but keep spending) to the picturesque wandering through a Paris dotted with its own history, such as the graves of Sartre and Beckett. Add to this a distinct scene part way through that revives in mimicry at the end when Meg, Nick and Morgan re-create the dance scene from Bande a part – its difficult know what the references are for, perhaps lost youth, perhaps just homage, perhaps just French New Wave porn for addicts like myself – but it works as a reminder that people never really change, and that culture both follows and invents us, watching, waiting and creating in the wings of our lives, forming a certain sort of truth that reality can never hope to emulate.