United Kingdom / France
Director: Roger Michell
Writer: Hanif Kureishi
Stars: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum
Release Date: September 7, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival) / March 14, 2014 (United States)
In Le Week-End we mosey along with a couple celebrating their anniversary in Paris. Confessions, escapades and affections are shared and the pleasure is all ours.
Chances are you've seen or heard of Richard Linklater's ambitious Before Sunrise series, thus far a trilogy of films each set 9 years apart and spending a day observing the relationship and romance of Jesse and Celine. In that first film they began as mere strangers on a train. Le Week-End also begins aboard a train ride, but sitting together is a senior couple about to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris. I bring up Before Sunrise because I honestly I couldn't stop thinking about it during the entire screening. Le Week-End feels like what we might see another two entries down the line from last year's Before Midnight. It owes a lot to the city-roaming whilst life-musing pattern those films have become known for. And if they followed the less experimental trajectory, as demonstrated in Midnight, we could easily wind up with something far more traditional like Le Week-End is.
Nick and Meg (played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) are a British couple who have recently achieved empty-nester status but are far from comfortably retiring. He's a professor and author and we learn that she shares his academic background. Their weekend getaway is occasionally interrupted by phone calls from home and the relentless reminder of their financial strain. It's clear from the beginning that the complex ties of their marriage are tired and tried.
That's not to say their adoration of one another is absent. Broadbent and Duncan have attractive and infectious expressions of amusement to match their solemn demeanors. Like any realistic portrayal of a romance you see the love and all the work it takes to maintain it. Is this trip a desperate attempt to rekindle their passion or might it be a last hurrah? Whatever the intentions these veteran thespians are terrific and almost immediately come off as couple bound by decades.
From a montage of standing outside of fancy-named restaurants in hopes that the menus can appease both parties to the peeled back rawness of hotel room R&R, Le Week-End completely gets and depicts what it's like to trip with a lover. The stereotypical weaknesses of men and women are laid bare while the idiosyncratic inner-workings of Nick and Meg rise to the surface in one setting after another. The film only derails from its course when other characters are introduced into the mix, especially a former student of Nick's played by Jeff Goldblum. It's not that Le Week-End loses its way necessarily as much as it acknowledges the impact third parties can and do have on a relationship, even when on a getaway. I liked it more when it was purely husband and wife but this does give them new situations to explore, including an awkward moment at the dinner table that might land its way in the history books.
Le Week-End is beautiful without distraction, clever without indulgence and true without agenda. It's a rare find and deserves a seat at the Before Sunrise table, probably near the end, along the slice-of-life studies of heterosexual relationships.