Thursday Editor’s Pick: Weekend (2011)

by on June 15, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Thurs June 16 at BAMcinemaFest at 7:30 [Program & Tix]

 

The third annual BAMcinemaFest opens this  Thursday with Andrew Haigh’s award-winning SXSW breakout hit Weekend. The film takes over all four of BAM’s screens and will be followed by a free opening night party.

 

The festival, celebrated by Richard Brody of The New Yorker as “the city’s best independent showcase,” features hotly anticipated New York premieres, in-person events, an outdoor screening, a musical performance,  and even burlesque. See the BAM website for the full lineup and details.

 

You can sift through festival recommendations from Time Out New York, Indiewire, The Village Voice and The New York Times– but the first order of business is opener Weekend, which Alt Screen founding editor caught at SWSW and has been falling all over himself with praise ever since. Writes Brunick for the May/June issue of Film Comment:

Director Andrew Haigh’s Weekend dramatizes a deceptively simple conceit. Working-class Russell (Tom Cullen) goes cruising at a gay bar in an English midlands town and wakes up next to Glen (Chris New), who is leaving the next day to study in the States. They decide to meet up again (why not?) and a one-night stand becomes a lost weekend…Like the brief relationship it portrays, Weekend‘s gut-punch emotional impact depends on just how unexpected its final trajectory is. Starting from a somberly kitchen-sink setup, the pitch builds slowly but with geometric progression, climaxing in an affective register that almost belongs to another genre entirely. The near-final scene would be a total cliche of tear-jerking romance if it wasn’t so entirely earned and so seamlessly, devastatingly perfect.

 

I’m worried (really quite anxious) not to oversell the film to create expectations when it depends so much on surprise. It’s not a matter of spoilers… The surprise of this film is just how ambitious it is: how unhurried its characterizations are, surreptitiously setting up backstory that it patiently waits to pay off; how little self-regard the actors betray, never playing the subtext in their emotionally complex performances; how totally the script avoids spelling out its themes, staging a dialogue between its leads that’s of such unpretentious philosophical resonance that you don’t quite realize how exacting it is until you’ve left the theater.

 

James Renovitch for the Austin Chronicle:

It’s hard to classify a movie like Weekend. Can it be romantic and depict what amounts to a two-night stand? Can it be a coming-out story when all the characters are technically out? Like the analogous Before Sunrise, Weekend manages to ride the line between character study, comedy, drama, and a host of other genres without feeling cramped. Russell (Cullen) is out but doesn’t feel comfortable talking to his predominantly straight friends about his relationships. Glen (New), meanwhile, moves in a more homonormative social circle. When the two collide at a club, it sets off a romantic chain reaction that is as uniquely troubled as they are. Like Before Sunrise, the real joy of writer/director Andrew Haigh’s film is in watching two people make bedrooms, overpasses, kitchenettes, and couches feel alive with potent conversation and pregnant silences. As the end to the tumultuous weekend approaches, the camera dreads the impending loss as much as the characters.

 

A.O. Scott considers it the most “perfectly realized” film of the festival, for NYT:

Andrew Haigh’s bracing, present-tense exploration of sex, intimacy and love… At first Mr. Haigh’s approach to the story seems as aimless as his protagonist, Russell (Tom Cullen), who drifts through a pleasant, if melancholy, life of work, time with friends and semi-closeted sexuality. But after Russell meets Glen (Chris New), and as Mr. Haigh cuts between off-center close-ups in scenes that feel loose and unstructured, the film discovers strong, unexpected currents of emotion and captures, with uncanny sensitivity, the growing affection and self-awareness of his characters.

 

 

David Hudson for MUBI:

The world premiere of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend made for a somewhat intimate Friday evening, and appropriately so. While another premiere, Source Code‘s, drew the bulk of the SXSW crowds, Haigh’s second feature as a director (his years serving as assistant editor for the likes of Black Hawk Down, Shanghai Knights and Mona Lisa Smile — but also Mister Lonely — are behind him) played like a gay British Quiet City before an audience of, oh, maybe 20 or 25 people, some of whom, like me, were there on little more than a hunch. The gamble paid off. Weekend is one of the best films to screen at this year’s festival so far.

 

Russell (Tom Cullen) has one foot in, one foot out of the closet, when he picks up Glen (Chris New), who turns out the next morning to be a man on a mission, namely, to confront straights with their fear of gay sex. His means will be an art project he’ll be the first to admit is under-conceived and will most likely go ignored. The issue, though — whether and to what extent to wield your sexuality as a weapon against those who’d persecute you for it, however unconsciously — becomes one of contention between Russell and Glenn, the friction that proves the mettle of a love neither was looking for. The characters are full, the actors are up to the challenge, and the scenes roll out at a length you might not expect from a director whose day job used to be cutting for maximum efficiency. Whatever the size of the audience, Haigh must have been pleased to bring Weekend to SXSW. During the Q&A, he cited Joe Swanberg and Aaron Katz as influences. Mumblecore, it seems, has crossed the Atlantic and come back a little grittier, a little older, a little wiser.

 

Catherine Shoard reviews the film and interview Haigh for The Guardian:

In fact, the gay themes of Weekend, a deftly-played and beautifully-paced little romance, are something of a red herring. Unlike Haigh’s debut, Greek Pete, which is about a rent boy in Soho and places sexuality front and centre, the film touches wider issues of inclusivity and isolation. It’s shot in languorous, long takes, allowing you to absorb the intricacies of body language at your leisure, though with more composition and focus than something shot on handheld. It’s a style that would find a naturally receptive audience in Austin (birthplace of mumble-core), among a crowd raised on American neo-realism.

 

“Films are so over-edited nowadays. Nobody gives things the space to just exist. You don’t need to be chopping back and forwards. People like Antonioni were happy to just let things exist.”

 

Director Haigh responds to a question about his conception of the film in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine:

I really just wanted to tell a story about two guys and the start of a possible relationship in all its insecure, messy, drunken glory. I wanted to tell it with honesty and authenticity while exploring some of the more subtle aspects of the gay experience. But this was never meant to be an issue-led film but rather a character-led one and watching the start of a relationship has always seemed to me a good way to understand a person. It is in those early stages of getting to know someone that you leak out all of the information that you feel defines you as a person, your past, your present, your ambitions for the future. You put across who you want to be as much as who you are. I wanted the film to be about this struggle to define yourself and the complications of trying to find your place in the world. Obviously this is especially pertinent if you are gay, but these are issues that affect everyone regardless of sexuality and I always hoped that this film would have resonance outside the obvious demographic.

 

 

Eric Kohn for Indiewire:

Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s British drama Weekend depicts a fleeting romantic encounter with delicacy and philosophical depth, but its chief appeal is simplicity. Revolving around a brief affair between two young men with vastly different perspectives on life, the film operates on a familiar dynamic; however, it works here thanks to the precise alignment of talented actors and a focused screenplay. Humming along on the commitment of its engaging leads, Weekend builds into a powerful encapsulation of an identity crisis over the course of three passionate days.

 

… In a single, reductive soundbite, Weekend could be considered the gay Medicine for Melancholy, which similarly dealt with the aftermath of a one-night stand. But Weekend is more specifically tied to Russell’s personal dilemma about the travails of coming out. His epiphany arrives when Glen tells him about the gap between “who you want to be and who you are,” but the story’s time constraints mean that Russell never figures out how to fix that problem. And yet with the final, contemplative shot, he conveys an unspoken dimension of progress, even though his next step is anybody’s guess.

 

 

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