LE WEEK-END (Dir. Roger Michell, 2013)
“You always did edit out the arguments and the misery,” remarks Lindsay Duncan to her husband played by Jim Broadbent over dinner at a fine French restaurant. “You can’t not love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes in my experience,” Broadbent replies after pausing to take a sip of wine.
In Roger Michell’s (NOTTING HILL, VENUS, HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON) latest drama LE WEEK-END, Broadbent and Duncan portray a British couple in their 60’s on a holiday in Paris in what appears to be a last ditch attempt to re-spark the flame of their fading marriage.
In hopes of taking a romantic breather from their lives of academia back in Birmingham – Broadbent’s a university philosophy professor; Duncan a grade-school teacher – the couple instead find it difficult to connect. Duncan is bully-ish, crabby, and sardonic towards Broadbent, who appears stressed under his muddled surface.
Broadbent and Duncan bicker all the while as they relocate from a shabby hotel to more luxurious accommodations in an elegant suite (“where Tony Blair once stayed”, they are told) with a beautiful view of the city and the Eiffel Tower.
Nevertheless, there are traces of life left in their relationship that we witness as we see them dine and dash, imitate the famous café dance scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s BAND À PART * along to its airing on their hotel room TV, and embrace in a passionate public display of affection in the Parisian streets, one that catches the eye of an old colleague of Broadbent’s (Jeff Goldblum). The eccentric as always Goldblum, oblivious to our lead couple’s friction, invites them to a dinner party at his home the next evening.
With its talky realism and picturesque locations, LE WEEK-END may just give us a taste of what the BEFORE SUNRISE series may look like if it continues for a few more decades.
There’s not a false note or anything cutesy in the screenplay written by Hanif Kureishi, in his fourth collaboration with director Michell. The weight that the two leads bring to Kureishi’s words comes from the same ace acting chops that won Broadbent an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for MOULIN ROUGE!), and Duncan a couple of Tony Awards (for her stage work in “Private Lives” and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”). Their laughs, sighs, and pained shrugs all form layered lived-in performances.
At times the film may hit a little too close to home for anybody who’s ever been through a rough patch in a lengthy relationship. Both of these people have long suffered the other, but it was hard for me not to side with Broadbent’s character. Early on he reveals to his wife that he’s been sacked from his job, and Duncan shows little sympathy for him afterwards. She even flirts with another man at Goldblum’s party and agrees to have a late night drink with him. The nerve!
Meanwhile, Broadbent has drifted away from the get-together and ends up smoking pot, and connecting over Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” with Goldblum’s neglected son from his first marriage (Olly Alexander). This leads to Broadbent’s confessional outpouring at the dinner table; the emotional climax of the movie.
The lingering question of will they stay together or split up may not be satisfyingly answered for some folks at the conclusion, but a clever callback to the BAND À PART dance routine that has Broadbent, Duncan, and Goldblum charmingly falling in line to the sprightly jazz on a pub’s jukebox provides a pleasing epilogue that should tell most movie-going dreamers everything they need to know about these people’s destiny.
* Godard made a 1967 film entitled WEEK-END, but it looks only tangentially related.