Review: Le Week-End (2013)

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Cast: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Roger Michell
Country: UK
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Le Week-End opens in limited release tomorrow, March 14th

“People have these romantic projections they put on everything,” Jesse tells Celine in Before Sunrise after she tells the story of her grandmother and the candle she kept burning for a youthful romance through her life. “That’s not based on any kind of reality.” That series’ success has stood in deflating the fantasy of romance across the course of time; it’s no mere coincidence that the latest movie, the bleakest—the realest—has been largely declared the best. If Jesse and Celine should keep making it to our screens, their fifth film might look a lot like Le Week-End, a relationship drama more pitched on resentment than romance, the reality-based answer to the idyllic image of an old couple on a park bench.

If Jesse and Celine should keep making it to our screens, their fifth film might look a lot like Le Week-End

le_week-end_2013_3It’s all off from the opening: scenes from the city of love set to the tune of a noir trumpet. The Paris of Le Week-End is not the stuff of picture postcards, no matter how keenly the couple at its heart might strain themselves to see the Eiffel Tower. Like that desperate effort to spot the sights from their less than luscious hotel room, this weekend break is a pretence, a tiptoe glance toward a distant attraction blocked by the barriers decades have wrought. That they celebrate their wedding anniversary—their thirtieth—at all is amusingly ironic enough in itself; to do so in a locale of lock-attested love is as if to push things toward parody.

If it’s our familiarity with those characters and the birth of the relationship between them that made the strained dynamic of Before Midnight seem so painful, it’s indicative of the incredible efforts of Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan that theirs is every bit as exhausting a couple to see crumble. They conjure alone and in tandem a history expressed in their every interaction; we needn’t see flashbacks or hear stories to know the times these two have been through together. Hanif Kureishi’s script, so subtle in its evocation of romantic rue, would be wasted on anything but the finest cast; lucky, then, that director Roger Michell has found these two, whose every stray glance speaks of years spent wondering what might (not) have been.

“You can’t not love and hate the same person,” Broadbent says sadly over a lunch; along with Michell’s marvellous camerawork, he and Duncan convince us.

le_week-end_2013_4There’s an immense shot early in the film where the two, having climbed to a vantage point to survey the scenery, are divided as he takes a call in the background while she gazes out in the foreground. It’s one of the many moments in which Michell—a malleable stylist—makes of the movie so much more than the marketing materials might have us think. His camera captures every tense little tic of annoyance, every minute shift from loving to loathing. “You can’t not love and hate the same person,” Broadbent says sadly over a lunch; along with Michell’s marvellous camerawork, he and Duncan convince us. The depths of their disgust with each other find match only in the peaks of the passion with which it’s alternated.

Starkly realist as the film may skew, it’s important to remember—much as it might be to the chagrin of those who bemoan the genre’s “demise”—that it is at heart a romantic comedy, however wearied and embittered a one. Be it in Broadbent’s brilliant bumbling or Kureishi’s wry, oft-scabrous wit, Le Week-End’s harsh truths come with a comic cushion to soften the blow. At times it’s even hilarious; Jeff Goldblum lunges wildly into the loopiness of a supporting role, stealing each of his scenes with a mad dash of decadent joy in the script’s richness. And yet there’s depth there too, even in this chaotic caricature of a man: if Le Week-End looks to be borne on the iconography of aged adoration, it’s only to turn the lights up on that ludicrous projection.

[notification type=”star”]74/100 ~ GOOD. Be it in Broadbent’s brilliant bumbling or Kureishi’s wry, oft-scabrous wit, Le Week-End’s harsh truths come with a comic cushion to soften the blow.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.