Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Enduring Love and Venus) and written by frequent screenwriting collaborator Hanif Kureishi, Le Week-End is a strange little film. Equally saddening and heartwarming, there is a resounding truthfulness and romanticism to this study of a veteran married British couple, Nick and Meg Burrows (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan). Celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary with a rare exotic escape in Paris they are amidst a disillusioning crisis that they seem aloof to resolving. Will this weekend heal their wounds, or be an opportunity to say goodbye? Lightly avoiding sentimentality and punishing misery I found this quite delightful.
Both academics – Nick is a philosophy professor, Meg a biology teacher – are experiencing an unsettlement in their long-term contentedness. What soon becomes clear is that Nick is anxious about money, amongst several other ailments. He is harbouring a secret he fears to disclose to Meg and is wracked with the nerve-shredding sense that he and Meg have lost their spark altogether. He remains firmly committed to a woman he fears doesn’t love him anymore. Being the kind of man he is, there could be no one else. Does she feel the same way about him? Meg finds that her sexuality has awakened, just as Nick seems to have lost all hope. One of the most affecting moments is when Nick sits alone drinking through their mini bar stock listening to Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’ on his headphones.
Throughout this cleverly conceived, uncomfortably honest comedy the pair repeatedly argue and make up, behave uncharacteristically deranged, and share moments of joyful mischief. Much to Nick’s concern Meg immediately splurges, throwing Euros at their cab driver, coercing him into taking them on a city tour, and then checks them into a hotel she knows they can’t afford. She does give him some reprieve, orchestrating a skip out on a hefty restaurant bill. Though Nick claims that the hotel he booked for them has inferiorly changed décor since their last visit, it soon becomes clear that it is them who have significantly changed. One can’t help but be reminded of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in the Before series. The film provides just a snapshot in time, yet the conversations reveal so much about the decades they have shared together, their present anxieties, and what their future together is looking like.
The camera style adopted by Michell is an often cheap-looking cinema-verite method. It works, creating a realism to suit the flesh-and-blood truths analyzed. We are intimately in the company of this couple as they navigate their wild rollercoaster of emotions. They discover their bodies aren’t equipped for obstacles like stairs, their hearts are heavy with stresses (upcoming bathroom renovations, a delinquent son who they feel compelled to assist) and they have lost their passion for spontaneity and adventure. Not so interested in establishing shots of the picturesque city, Michell has his story written on the faces of these fascinating individuals, and in the unlikely situations they find themselves in.
As for the performances, they’re spot on. Broadbent is always great, but the film delivers subtle emotional sucker-punches courtesy of his performance. The scene-stealer is a compelling, perfectly cast Jeff Goldblum, who infuses the film with a weird energy. He stars as Morgan, an old college buddy of Nick who has gone on to be intimidatingly successful, yet hasn’t forgotten how much of a role model Nick once was. He is a novelist who has escaped the States and is currently living with his second wife. She’s young, French and pregnant. Much of the film’s superior second half takes place as a fancy soiree at Morgan’s place – an invite offered to Meg and Nick following a chance street meeting – which involves Nick getting high with Morgan’s estranged son, and culminates in a dinner of heartbreaking confessions.
There is a Godard-like simplicity to the story (not to mention a love for one of Godard’s films) – two people facing a confusing crossroads in their relationship, and a foreign city. That’s all we need. While it took me a while to warm to the filmmaking style and the characters, I found Le Week-End thoroughly entertaining.
[rating=3] and half
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Le Week-End, is in Australian cinemas Feb 20.