Thursday, January 1, 2015

Weekend (1967)

Director: Jean-Luc Goddard                              Writer: Jean-Luc Goddard
Film Score: Antoine Duhamel                            Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Starring: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Michéle Breton

Continuing a tradition since this blog began, I’m reviewing a French film for my first post of the new year. Jean-Luc Goddard’s Weekend was a selection of the Olympia Film Festival this past fall, and since I didn’t get a chance to see it then I decided to take a look at it now. Weekend is a black comedy, but a very French black comedy, which means the black is far more black than expected and the comedy is mostly situational rather than relief. It’s a fairly disturbing film that doesn’t seem to do anything with the emotions it attempts to wring from the audience. There are ideas here, to be sure, especially in the way that the ideology is bled of all its emotion and left with nothing but the husk of anger and no real purpose. The emptiness of the late sixties revolutionary spirit is ridiculed by the very emptiness of the film itself. One of the interesting sequences is the speech in a field by a French revolutionist, stating that freedom is violence, like a crime, and that freedom kills itself. And while in the revolutionary context it makes sense, in the world of that time it seems there is less to fear from the revolutionaries overturning civilization than there is that civilization has already been undone. It’s a film that is interesting to watch once, but has very little worth returning to.

The opening of the film, however, has a delightful setup. Goddard begins by sticking a pin the pretentiousness of filmmaking right away in the opening credits announcing, “A film adrift in the cosmos.” Two men are shown on a patio and when Mireille Darc appears she tells Jean Yanne, her husband, that he has a phone call. At this point Darc and her lover go into the yard and he says he wishes Yanne would die in a car accident with her rich father while Darc says she has kept her husband from fixing the breaks on his car. The credits then flash, “A film found in a dump.” This is followed by noisy car horns, with two men climbing out of their cars and fist fighting while Darc watches from above. Once on the phone, Yanne realizes it is his own lover and expresses how he wishes Darc would die in a car wreck with her rich father because the pills and gas he’s been giving him haven’t worked and she might begin to get suspicious. This, however, is just the beginning. After a long sequence in which Darc tells Yanne about a sex dream she’s had, they get into their car, argue with the neighbors, and Goddard launches into an extremely long tracking shot of the car inching along the road past a line of cars a quarter mile long, all to the accompaniment of car horns. At the end are pools of blood in the road and dead bodies in the grass nearby.

This juxtaposition seems to be the whole point of the film, a bourgeoisie couple traveling to kill the patriarch for his money. Wrecked cars litter the roadway. A man is killed crashing into a tractor. Darc and Yanne are then kidnapped by a modern filmmaker but get away. Eventually their car crashes and, looking into the flames, Darc screams out in terror, “My Hermés Handbag!” As the film rolls on, a giant odometer occasionally flashes on the screen. Briefly, the carnage on the screen is compared to the French Revolution complete with costumed actor shouting a speech in a field. As the trip continues, the characters get more and more bizarre, Emile Bronte and Tom Thumb, for example, and ends in the camp of a bunch of militant cannibalistic hippies. Ultimately the film is very much a product of its time, art for art’s sake, if you can even call it art. At this time boundary stretching was done simply to do it, and for no real purpose. In a long sequence at a farmyard, as the camera revolves slowly around in circles, a man plays a piano and waxes philosophically about Mozart, but the comparison is clear. Everyone loves Mozart, “just imagine all the royalties the poor man would get nowadays,” but nobody attends the concerts of modern composers. It’s difficult to tell if it’s a complaint by the filmmaker that no one likes his films, or an ironic jab at his own pretensions. As far as Weekend goes, unfortunately, it would appear it is the former.

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