Sunday, December 4, 2011

Classic Throwback: Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

Weekend would have to be considered one of Godard’s wildest and boldest features and one of his most absurd adventures. It is unlike any other film you are likely to encounter. Despite breaking new ground (again) in its unconventional storytelling (though deciphering a plot is next-to-impossible) and containing several remarkable, and iconic, sequences, Weekend was a film I did not particularly enjoy. Having reflected on it overnight, and with some of the disturbing images from the film (and not to mention a particular song) still stuck in my head, I have decided that this may have in fact been Godard’s intention. He wants to repulse viewers with his explicit sexual anecdotes, frustrate viewers with jarring intertitles and incessant honking during a lengthy tracking shot depicting a traffic jam, and shock viewers with the frequent appearance of violent car crashes and bloody executions.

To call this one of Godard’s most unconventional films is saying a lot, but it’s certainly considered one of his most important. To Godard it is like Persona is to Ingmar Bergman, but more on that influence later. To be honest, there are some sequences here that are darkly comic, but most are vile and grotesque. Few scenes are dull (but I have to admit I was lost during two lengthy narrative monologues about political attitudes, where the camera focuses on the faces of two bread-roll eating garbage men). Weekend has marked the conclusion of Godard’s 1960’s New Wave era – a period where he was making films at a crazy pace (two to three a year) in a bid for commercial success. Forever embroiled in a struggle to blend his Marxist beliefs and unique aesthetic (Contempt was a dramatized version of this conflict) this serves as a farewell to this era and a link into his even more obscure, politically-charged black comedies that would later follow.

If there is a central plot to this film, it tracks a bourgeois French married couple, Roland (Jean Yanne) and Corinne (Mireille Darc). Both of them have secret lovers, and both of them are in fact planning each other’s murder. They set out by car for Corinne’s parents’ home in the country to secure her father’s inheritance – killing him if need be. The weekend trip is riddled with chaos, and obstacles, including the ever-present existence of violent car crashes and strewn bodies a host of bizarre characters they cross paths with, punctuate the journey. They are abducted and held at gunpoint, meet figures from literature and history, and end up with a tribe of hippie cannibals. Godard’s obsessive use of intertitles is intrusive, but comment on the action and inform the viewer about the film they are watching. One particularly notable one near the start claims that the film was ‘found in the scrap heap.’ Oddly, that doesn't feel inaccurate.

I guess trying to explain this film is a lost cause. But I’ll quickly run through a couple of the film’s most memorable scenes. Corinne relays a sexually graphic anecdote to her husband’s friend about a ménage a trios she had with a husband and wife. She delivers this in an expressionless monotone (even in relaying details of how the husband dribbled egg into her anus) and not with the emotion of Bibi Anderson from Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, with which this scene shares a lot of similarities, both in the content of the anecdote and the way it is shot. The characters are sitting in near-darkness and appearing as silhouettes.

The next scene is surely one of Godard’s most famous, depicting, in a lengthy tracking shot (between eight and ten minutes), a nasty traffic jam on the road to Oinville. Roland weaves his sports car convertible through the jam, managing to barely avoid cars coming in the other direction, and copping incessant honking and cursing. The camera doesn’t always remain on their car, but tracks ahead without waiting for Roland to catch up. What we see in this scene is extraordinary. In addition to regular automobiles, Roland passes a truck containing zoo animals, a man tending to his sailboat, people throwing a ball between the open roofs of their cars, and people who have stepped out of their cars and set up chess games and seen sharing picnics. Eventually we see the cause of the jam – a bloody car accident that has left bodies strewn across the road. Roland, indifferent, steps on the gas and speeds through.

Once their car is destroyed in a collision, they roam the countryside trying to hitch a ride to Oinville and the film becomes surreal and demented. Other scenes include a bizarre phone conversation that morphs into a love song (performed by Jean-Peirre Leaud, The 400 Blows and Masculine Feminine) which is interrupted by the couple when they attempt to steal his car, a roadside scene where Corinne is raped in a ditch by a passer-by, one where the couple burn a character named Emily Bronte, and the bizarre concluding scenes where Roland is killed trying to escape from the revolutionaries and added to the menu of the machete-weilding, blood-soaked cannibal chef. It's a tough film to shake, but even tougher to endure. I am content with leaving Godard for the time being, having watched ten of his films, but it certainly wasn't the send off I was expecting.

What are your thoughts on Weekend? I had the chance to buy it today (as part of a six film master director's pack) but I decided not to - even though Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc was another. I doubt I'll ever watch it again.


  1. I remember seeing it on SBS a lot of years ago. I don't think I liked it that much, though I didn't dislike it that much either. And the traffic jam is pretty amazing.

    What else was in that DVD pack?

  2. The traffic jam was amazing. Definitely.

    Also in the pack was SOLARIS by Tarkovsky, HOUR OF THE WOLF by Bergman, THE DECAMERON by Pasolini, a Kurosawa film that I can't recall the name of and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC by Dreyer. It's solid, but I couldn't really afford it - and I was going in blind on four of the films.

  3. Would the Kurosawa film have been Dersu Uzala? Cos I think that's the only film by him Shock have released.

  4. I think this is Godard's best film. However, I did not enjoy it at all. It is the most disturbing film I've ever seen. However, I also admire it. I love Godard's ruthless attitude. He doesn't give a fuck how the viewer feels; he makes film's to entertain himself. This is certainly one of those. There are many brilliant, brilliant scenes I love, but my number one favorite moment in the film is a particular shot that I think is far more notable than the traffic jam shot. It is a single take, in which the camera does two full 360 degree turns without cutting, for absolutely no reason at all. It's a brilliant moment. Sure it's pointless, but it's also brilliant. I love this film, as much as it has scarred me, I love it.

  5. It's definitely a film I admire, but did not enjoy. Godard had balls. For so long there was a constant struggle between him trying to become a commercial success and still say what he wanted to in say his films - and there are some occasions (this is one I have seen, but also Pierrot Le Fou, Masculine Feminine and Made in U.S.A) where he doesn't consider censorship, political leanings or whether it has a narrative that is commercially viable. He just makes the film he wants to make. I agree, that 360 degree shot was pretty extraordinary. It lost me for a while there, but it's great because the shot makes no sense, but it's what he wanted to do!

  6. As a child of 12, I saw weekend on TV and found it very impressive. I liked the traffic jam, the process being more important than the goal, the tension were the film will go, the intriging characters; I guess all the things we are now missing in a Hollywood hundred in a dozen blockbuster.

    1. You saw it when you were 12? Wow. Yeah, Godard leaves all of his cards on the table here. That traffic jam is pretty amazing.