Friday Editor’s Pick: Weekend (1967)

by on October 7, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Fri Oct 8 thru Thurs Oct 20 at 1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45 and 10:00 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]

 

J. Hoberman for the Village Voice:

Jean-Luc Godard changed the course of film history with his debut Breathless (1960) and then again when he capped an unprecedented seven-year run with his 14th feature, Weekend. Less an individual movie than the culmination of a process we might call the Godardification of cinema, Weekend was first shown here at the 1968 New York Film Festival and opened immediately thereafter at an Upper East Side movie house with an ad that paraphrased the French student radicals of the previous May: “IMAGINATION IS SEIZING POWER!” This apocalyptic farce—Alice in Wonderland as reconceived by the Marquis de Sade—would mark both the high point and the end of Godard’s meteoric career as a popular artist.Appropriately, the director chose to crash and burn with a comic horror film about the collapse of civil society.

 

Weekend’s tone is insolently objective. Spectators are invited to laugh at cruelty throughout. The characters are greedy, self-absorbed, querulous, and violent. (A surprising amount of them carry guns.) Godard travestied the American road movie even before Easy Rider established the mode, and he invented his own rules. An introductory title characterizes Weekend as “A film adrift in the cosmos.” One of two celebrated set pieces is a stately lateral tracking shot eight minutes in duration of a traffic jam on a French road; the other is a deadpan, ominous description of an orgy lifted from Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye.

 

Dramatizing homicidal conflict in the context of inexplicable, matter-of-fact social disaster, Godard’s unrelenting, consistently inventive farrago of grim humor, revolutionary rhetoric, coolly staged hysteria, and universal aggression is pure ’68, an art-house analog to its contemporary, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and one of four new releases forbidden to Catholics by the National Legion of Decency.  The Legion condemned a movie; Godard condemned the civilized world.

 

 

 

Eric Henderson for Slant Magazine:

Weekend is subtitled “a film found in a dump” in one of the film’s copious intertitles, but oddly enough this designation is worn as a badge of authenticity, given that the most erudite mouthpieces for Godard’s political stance are arguably the two sandwich-chewing garbage men—sophist trash collectors who spin indignant Marxist litany as though they were trading fours—who Corinne and Roland hitch a ride with after their own sports car is destroyed in one of the film’s continuous car wrecks. The interlude devoted to their spiel is probably the most doggedly un-cinematic, un-narrative stretch of the film (when one talks, Godard insists on showing the other one in tight close-up, staring blankly and eating) and the one scene where dialectic becomes diatribe, indicating just how far the film director/rhetorical muse was willing to go to stress the latter.

 

Otherwise, Weekend is a luridly colorful compendium of aesthetic juxtapositions and audio-visual schisms that evoke the frustrated tenor of the era. The film’s characters draw attention to the fact that they’re in a movie, then aren’t so sure of the false nature of their own violent natures when they set “Emily Bronte” on fire and notice her crying. Title cards frequently intrude upon scenes to discredit the scenes surrounding them. Fades are deliberately miscued, camera angles obfuscatory. The film jumps its sprockets when Roland and Corinne crash their own car (a disaster met with Corinne’s immortal, anguished assessment of their loss: “My Hermés handbag!”). Godard calls Jesus a communist (as he would shortly declare of himself during the Left Bank uprising of ’68), but paradoxically calls Christianity “the refusal of self-knowledge, the death of language.”

 

Because Godard takes such a blazing swan dive into his own bilious socio-political contempt for all the inhumane, consumer-centric, anti-intellectual bullshit that modern civilization had collectively, if subconsciously (make that “non-consciously”), declared its contribution to mankind’s notion of progress; because it’s his most poetic prickishness, Weekend ironically endures as probably Godard’s most beloved film. Unlike most of his later tirades which stand on their own artistic merit but convert precious few, its vision of mankind’s secret hope for eschatological redemption — or a reset button in John Carpenter’s extremely underrated Escape from L.A. — is buttressed by a compelling, unabatedly distressing formalism that stands nearly alone among movie visions of the end times. At least, according to Armond White, until Godard’s archenemy Steven Spielberg’s recent War of the Worlds, which is an equally brutal road movie that’s constantly on the precipice of humanity’s ultimate destruction. I would call Marxism the resolving “germ” that brings Weekend‘s nightmarish invasion to a tentative halt if Godard hadn’t ultimately thrown both it and human flesh into the same rusty frying pan.

 

Keith Uhlich says “Johnny Guitar calling Gösta Berling. Go see Godard’s stinging satire. Over.” for Time Out New York:

Apocalypse wow! Godard’s self-proclaimed “film found in a dump” famously declared, in its end credit, it was the fin de cinema. That boast now seems more garrulously tongue-in-cheek than bruisingly fist-to-face, but the best parts of this affront on all things bourgeois still pack a caustic wallop. At the center of Godard’s anticapitalist maelstrom are unhappily marrieds Corinne (Darc) and Roland Durand (Yanne), who set out on a weekend journey to collect an inheritance, yet are immediately forced on a number of surreal detours.

 

The best of these comes early: a traffic jam—captured in a single eight-minute shot—that the couple navigates while car horns screech in ear-shattering symphony. It’s the movie in miniature, with a succession of hilarious, comic-panel tableaux—sailboats and Shell trucks and llamas, oh my!—that builds to a blood-chilling punch line. No amount of Emily Brontë cameos, Hermès handbag lamentations or gun-toting cannibal Marxists can top the sequence. As long as cinema like this exists, there’s no end in sight.

 

Renata Adler for the New York Times:

The conception of the movie is very grand. It is as though the violent quality of life had driven Godard into and through insanity, and he had caught it and turned it into one of the most important and difficult films he has ever made. There are plot fragments at the beginning, betrayals, dire conspiracies to murder, detailed, intimate (and highly comic) sexual anecdotes. They lead nowhere. There are a couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne), who, like refugees from the world of Samuel Beckett, are always looking for a gas station, and later for a town. A lot of the movie is like Beckett, the despair (if this can be imagined) not as it is on stage, simplified and austere, but rich, overloaded, really epic. At one point, as the couple sit by the side of the road, the woman is casually raped in a ditch. No one even bothers to mention it. This would not work in the theater or in prose. It works on film.

 

There is a moment near the end when the movie cracks up—long, dogmatic, motionless diatribes on behalf of Africa and the Arab countries with a peroration against black nonviolence, which keeps one thinking Biafra, Biafra, and wanting to walk out. (In fact, it might be advisable to walk out when the speeches begin for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.) It’s unprofessional, like a musician stopping a concert to deliver a bit of invective to a captive audience. But perhaps, like any serious artist, Godard cannot help including all his preoccupations raw right now, even if they bring his movie down.

 

But the film must be seen, for its power, ambition, humor, and scenes of really astonishing beauty. There are absurdist characters from Lewis Carroll, from Fellini, from La Chinoise, from Bunuel. At many moments the movie, which is in color, captures the precise sense one has about the world, when one is in a city or in a rush, when one reads the headlines or obituary columns, when one drives, when one sets out, for that matter, on a weekend. It is as though the apocalypse had somehow registered on a sensibility calibrated very fine. It is an appalling comedy. There is nothing like it at all. It is hard to take.

 

 
Charles H. Meyer for Cinespect:

Over the course of “Week End,” as French society collapses like a war-battered country being struck not by bombs but by the corrosive, corrupting forces of capitalism, so collapses the film’s original narrative, which the increasingly radicalized proletariat commandeer away from the murderously money-grubbing Durands as Godard turns his film into an extended lecture on Marxist revolutionary theory. If I have any criticism of “Week End,” it is that the bluntly didactic tone it takes on gets a little tedious, especially towards the end of the film, but I think that that is one of Godard’s intentions. A Brechtian filmmaker, Godard teases and excites us with the sex and violence that have always been cinema’s strongest lures only then to disrupt these complacent bourgeois pleasures, to discomfit us, to exhaust our patience, to agitate us beyond simple enjoyment, straining “Week End” past its natural breaking point and thus bringing the film to a fittingly “weak” end.

 

Of the film’s more overtly Marxist scenes, the most enduringly powerful is the one in which a pair of migrant workers, one African (Omar Diop), the other Arab (László Szabó), speak out for each other directly to the camera in protest against their countries’ oppression by the West, meanwhile aggressively munching their sandwiches and forcing the Durands, hungry but denied any bites of the workers’ hard-earned bread, to sit silently and listen. Especially in light of the ongoing Arab springs and continual unrest in sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention the Occupy Wall Street protests and their off-shoots in cities around the country, “Week End,” an anti-capitalist pro-revolutionary screed of a film folded inside a formally inventive, bright and beautiful but bitingly cynical pop confection, a meandering parade of absurd, shocking and blackly comic spectacles, looks and feels as timely and potent as ever.

 

From David Nicholls’ “Godard’s Weekend: totem, taboo, and the fifth republic,” for Sight and Sound 49:1 (Winter 1979/1980):

Corrine’s psyche, in its relationship with contemporary culture, is the prism through which Godard’s anthropological ruminations are filtered, and, after a short establishing opening scene, she relates her sexual fantasies to us. But Godard does not use his customary direct-to-camera interview technique to get his personage to reveal herself to the audience. The image is dark, Corrine and her interlocuter are almost invisible, and parts of her confession are inaudible as sombre music swells and fades. We are seeing through a glass darkly, afforded glimpses into the recesses of the modern Frenchwoman’s mind. Her psychotic state – portrayed throughout the film as a tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest irritation – is hinted at by her inability to tell fact from fantasy, to remember whether her perverse tale really happened. At the same time, some elements of her story/fantasy refer forward to the guerillas’s rites [depicted later in the film] (the eggs in particular and sexual degradation in general) and, incidentally, it is revealed that, as befits a true middle-class Parisienne, she smokes only American cigarettes. Thus the plot (such as it is) is introduced casually, while the signposts to the interior journey are shown slowly, in a teasing and rather irritating manner. What is to follow is a fantasy not far removed from fact, and our civilization, like Corrine, is unable to tell the difference.

 

 
Richard Brody, in his book Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard:

The overriding structure of the film, unlike that of La Chinoise, was simple, and Godard recognized the difference: “In La Chinoise I had nothing but details to assemble, lots of details. For Weekend, on the contrary, I have the structure, but not the details.” The pretext for the couple’s trip was grotesquely mercenary: they were rushing to her family home before her mother died to make sure they would not be disinherited by her stepfather. Their trip and its purpose fit squarely within Godard’s own moral mythology: the film’s first scene, of the couple in comfort and at leisure in a modern suburban house, features the woman (Darc) whispering on the phone to her lover, telling him that she will leave her husband as soon as she gets the money. Once again, Godard associated the political and social immorality of the bourgeois and consumerist way of life with sexual immorality and marital infidelity.

 

To make his point, Godard created an extraordinary array of set pieces of a bourgeois world desperately out of joint. […] The most famous set piece of the film, and one of the greatest conceptual gags in the history of cinema, is the traffic jam that the husband and wife encounter on their way out of town. The sequence lasts for nine minutes; it is a series of tracking shots, cut together by intertitles to simulate the impression of a single take. In this sequence, the camera simply follows a line of cars inching forward – often entirely stopped – on one lane of a two-lane highway. Some people have left their cars, others picnic at the roadside, children throw a beachball from one sunroof to another as horns honk, tempers rise, drivers attempt to cut in on the line and are rebuffed by other drivers, until, at the head of the traffic jam, the cause of the bottleneck is revealed: drivers have stopped to stare at an accident which has strewn wrecked cars around trees and left blood-spattered bodies dispersed on the road. The sequence connects the two scourges of automotive life – traffic jams and car crashes – in a single comic idea and a single image. Despite the very long takes and the very few cuts, the scene is, above all, a masterwork of montage, as Godard had primordially conceived it.

 

[…] Godard called his film “closer to a cry” than to a movie, and he was right. His characters are lost in a landscape of pain. France is depicted as an automotive inferno in which people beat and shoot each other over right of way or a dented bumper; where a mile-long traffic jam is caused by compulsive rubbernecking at a corpse-strewn flaming wreck; where overturned and burned-out blood-doused cars and their victims are as common as trees in the landscape; where emotionally dissociated monsters remain as unaffected by the farmers in a barnyard as by the Mozart incongruously played there, and who set afire a poet (Emily Brontë) when she will not interrupt her musings to give them directions. Weekend is a prolonged howl of rage at the perceived vanities and cruelties of bourgeois life.

 

-Compiled by Maxwell Wolkin

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