Revisiting Godard's "Weekend"
Updated: May 18, 2020
A 35mm restorative print screened at the Aero Theater
Through his entire career just before Weekend, which features fifteen films in the span of seven years; Jean Luc Godard had been ripping apart the language of cinema in ways that’ll forever leave studious cinephiles anatomizing his body of work. With Weekend, Godard at this point, is left with everything sparsely in the air, delivering what is his best film. His purest of all films, and perhaps his most important. Its playfully odious, and bravado vigor goes beyond boundaries of any movie Godard has ever made, and while it has definitely inspired rapid hatred from moviegoers, and Godard fans alike by first viewing (I was one of them), the case of such great movies go -- it’ll take repeated viewings and time for it to be completely understood and realized.
Here is a film about venomous natures, violence, and the bolting calamity that’ll become the very end of civilization. And yet, Godard is not interested in showing us an ‘end of the world’ movie because he knew simply an ‘end of the world’ movie would have little effect. Instead, he focuses on the behaviors of his characters, the leisurely defiant personas that damage relationships, and the iniquitous saturated society he unveils in a variety of spellbinding sequences. In this approach, does Godard create a confidently abstruse version of a pre-maturing apocalypse, one that gradually regales in surrealist dread, political hilarity, and chaotic irony. The story, as heavily ensemble as it eventually becomes, is almost more simple than what a usual Godard film would be. It centers a married couple, Roland (Jean Yanne, the director of the aged satire Everybody He is Nice, Everybody He is Beautiful) and Corrine (Mireille Darc from The Blonde from Peking), who set out on a road trip to gain the inheritance of Corrine’s parents. Their intention is to kill them, and along the way, consider their own attempts of adultery.
Where the film truly takes off in its surreal odyssey is when the couple find themselves in a traffic jam. The traffic jam itself is one of those truly bizarre sequences that is prolong, undeniably frustrating, but with its own revolutionized meaning. The shot is parallel to the traffic line, and it is eventually revealed from an exchange of dialogue from two random passengers that the meaning of the shot is not necessarily the traffic jam itself, but the technique of the shot. In whats about third quarters of a mile, we’re seeing society represented by each passenger of each vehicle. They’ve gone weary from their tried patience, some outpour in disbelief, and what ultimately caused the jam is eventually revealed.
In this sequence, I believe Godard has somewhat made a point on the degree of madness in society from consumerism, and desire. Roland and Corrine abandon the car and embark on their journey where they’ll meet historical figures, encounter subjects of malevolent destruction, and even intrude scenes from a different film. While all of this sounds like Godard carelessly, and erratically disregarding a cohesive narrative structure -- I began to wonder if this was more of a mosaic on radicalized crusading rather than a complete film. It was a couple of weeks after this viewing when I watched Luis Bunuel’s sardonically vibrant The Milky Way, which centers two pilgrimages on a journey to Saint James in Spain. In their journey, they too embark various strange characters, and historical figures such as Bishop Priscillian, and Satan. That film explored a filmmaker’s attitude within dogmatic principles while sporadically shifting tones that go beyond explanation. Weekend is not merely just a filmmaker’s despondent attitude towards the political and social climate of France (beginning with the siding of the revolt of the proletariat till the film’s final act brings us the Liberation Front of the Seine and Osie), but a relentless allegorical on the cruelties we as individuals can identify with. No, I do not mean the cannibalism aspect of certain characters in the film; but the hubris breathers we tend to be, the shamelessness in our deception, and the way our tempestuous minds can easily be manipulated by a radical cause.
My first viewing was a struggle, as I instantly believed Godard was mindlessly creating a mutinous puzzle even he couldn’t mesh together. Still, there are questionable elements that even after various viewings, I still can’t quite understand. Political speeches that feel completely derided by its actual source, Darc’s monologue inspired from Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, describing to her lover a sexual encounter involving cracked eggs over an anus. The three hundred sixty degree angle shot that reveals a barnyard of a production crew, and a pianist. The encounter of Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Saint-Just, and the horrifyingly swift change in character for Corrine when she stumbles upon the cannibal liberation. Though, once Godard breaks away from the restraints of his own design as a storyteller the moment the traffic jam sequence reaches its punchline, nothing really matters. By the time we’ve gotten to the film’s final act, we’ve already accepted the obscurity of the world he created. Like many of Godard’s work, everything is unprecedented, a story is more or so a criticism of another story; I mean after all, he was a film critic. Genres are juxtaposed, the color schemes are vibrant, and suddenly pallid. Performances are sensually vile, emulating the risque features characterizing shady culprits of pulp fiction. I think about Pauline Kael’s review for Band of Outsiders whenever I find myself analyzing a Godard film. She acknowledges (what could be) his attempt for finding the “poetry between the lines”, in what is already a known genre of the elemental facets. On a personal note, my own fascination with Godard has gradually become due to Pauline’s grounded assessment.
She sees deeply, and clearly a substance through the deliberately enigmatic innovation that is an avant-garde’s magisterial expression. Here’s a filmmaker who’s artistry deems praise for reasons we hardly ever witness. Though, I think in what’s considerably his valiant exercise, much of everything seems inventive in the arbitrary of structure. Out of the fifty four films of the one hundred and thirty four efforts under his filmography, I’ve only found myself completely won by six. I may’ve at some point respected his design breaking an established sense of the narrative structure.
With this viewpoint, however, I felt most of his later work (when he went completely militant in political fare) just after Weekend, dismissed substance for the expression of diplomatic creed. Prior to this film, I would’ve gone with the contrary, when he was making films with substance in the means of the unestablished structure. He is the most fascinating of the French New Wave directors, perhaps because (such as Truffaut) he understood cinema, and it’s power of persuasion. He knew, better than any filmmaker at that time, what new lengths cinema could reach, just by being whatever it is one can imagine with no constraints.
Weekend is one of those six films. It is a ballistic tour de force with so many cinematic nuances within the absurdity and revelations. It is pure cinema for the reason great movies are even considered great. It is dangerous, funny, angry, and passionate.