Love, life and languor in the City of Lights, Roger Michell’s Le Week-End sees a couple renegotiating their marriage and giving it the ooh-la-la.
Masculin Féminin by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s nice to see Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi back together again. After Hyde Park On Hudson and Morning Glory, we’re back to the more intimate human dramas of Venus and The Mother. This time however, there’s no unbalanced love (or sex) story between the ages, but rather a love story battling time itself, as a couple rapidly nearing retirement celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary with a weekend break in Paris, trying to find themselves as a couple again after parenting, infidelities and slow ossification. Their attempts to reignite those flames aren’t all earnest though, and as the British couple gallivant in the City of Lights, like aged reincarnations of Anna Karina and Sami Frey, and splashing out on a luxury suite in the Plaza Athénée, they’re in for one hell of a weekend in the merde.
Nick (Jim Broadbent), a philosophy professor and Meg (Lindsay Duncan), a teacher, are on their way to Paris from Birmingham on the Eurostar. Nick has arranged the city break for their anniversary, but when their Montmartre hotel turns out to be beige, Meg hails a taxi. And after a 60 Euro sightseeing trip round the capital’s monuments, Meg lays down her credit card at a five-star hotel, extravagantly raising the game and embarking on a weekend break in style. They eat at carefully chosen restaurants, argue at the Sacré Coeur, run out on an expensive meal without paying, bump into old colleagues and flirt with French strangers, but it’s a make-or-break break, as the couple renegotiate their relationship with its past history, its diminished freedoms in the present and the endless possibilities of an inviting alternative future. But where else can Nick and Meg recapture their lost love if not Paris?
It’s tempting to believe Le Week-End was shot on a shoestring budget, simply following Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent from the UK to Paris through the Channel Tunnel. (Until they check into a five-star hotel.) For there’s something very fresh about Roger Michell’s film, with its snappy, realist dialogue and mesmerising performances, that really does recall something of the Nouvelle Vague and its unconventional lust for life. And maybe if it hadn’t been for the central performances from Duncan and Broadbent, Michell’s breath of fresh French air may have felt rather stale. Yes, Meg verges on the neurotic – petulant and interminably indecisive, while Nick has something of the wounded puppydog, making it not hard to see why his wife finds his bored adoration so tiring. And yet their story is so rooted in everyday life – Nick seizing their time together to plan their new bathroom tiles – that Le Week-End, while funny and free, is also uncomfortably honest.
For this weekend away is a break from the everyday and a chance to reinvent their lives anew. And as old affairs and suspicions are dredged up and the couple bicker acrimoniously, their lives seem no longer to be on the same path. Surrounded at a party by writers, sculptors and philosophers as well as some eligible bachelors taking an interest, there’s certainly some inspirational food for thought for what those uncertain futures might hold. And Meg’s desire to have more time for herself is an interesting (but underdeveloped) hang-up from Seventies women’s liberation, saddled for decades with a husband and children. But just as Meg and Nick are overshadowed by richer and more successful Parisians, they’re also deeply aware that they too have something rare and precious. They’re still in love even after all these years. Whatever that means.
With a climax borrowed from Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à Part, Le Week-End opts for a cine-literary rather than an emotional resolution, giving us the feeling of closure while leaving Meg and Nick’s relationship drama unanswered. With a New Wave flourish, the answer perhaps, like their marriage, lies in the journey though rather than the ending. But with a cracking script from Hanif Kureishi and pitch-perfect performances from Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent, Le Week-End is a continental pleasure. It’s free-wheeling, intelligent and witty. And while its soul-searching navel-gazing may not suit every taste, its joie de vivre will surely leave you breathless.
Le Week-End is released on 11th October 2013 in the UK