If his subversive humor weren’t so charming in spots, Godard would’ve fallen off the edge and into the nadir of fatal self-consciousness with this apocalyptic fable about a mutually unfaithful Parisian couple trolling around in their zippy convertible for a weekend in the country, only to get bafflingly lost. They encounter a menagerie of post-colonial indignation, primal sexuality, gang warfare, guerilla revolt, till, finally, they succumb to its “law of the jungle” primitivism.
This is Lord of the Flies as played by adults, and for Left Bank intellectuals, heady with righteous protest and wired on too many coffees and cigarettes. There’s a revolutionary fervor to Godard’s filmmaking, but because it all stems for a place of smug late-60s left-wing radicalism, the results are stilted, and cheeky when they’re not obliquely academic. Weekend transpires as a series of surrealistic vignettes, including one featuring an amusingly long tracking shot in which an eccentric cross-section of French daytrippers badger each other from out of their cars along a horn-snarled, traffic-jammed country road. It’s the highlight of an otherwise tediously dated experiment in avant-garde narrative cinema. Throughout, characters question each other whether they’re real or part of a movie, and intertitles declaring the End of Cinema and of civilization pepper the action–while some of these, like the whizzing speedometer that keeps a tag on the speed-racing dysfunctional couple are truly inventive, Godard’s notion of cinematic apocalypse are downright hokey. Only a French hyper-intellectual like Godard would intellectualize cinema as pop culture agit-prop to this degree even going so far as having his forest-dwelling renegades address each other using “inside” Hollywood and French movie characters to symbolize ideas in dialectical conflict. Watching all this is about as engaging as the Sunday crossword puzzle, and for the same reasons; there’s nothing deeper than in “getting” obscure sociopolitical references (“A week of four Thursdays”), and deciphering the interplay between the real and surreal to reap whatever the hell it is Godard’s so wound up about.
Class, ethnicity and colonialism get thrown into a tragicomic mixer as characters bicker with each other, sometimes addressing the camera directly, and the results’ near-Lynchian goofiness can be interestingly outrageous without achieving anything of deeper, lasting significance. Of course, from where I sat, the descent into pseudo-pagan rituals (what’s with the fish inserted between the woman’s legs?), butchery, and cannibalism, not to mention the scene in which the husband sits by while his wife gets raped in a ditch–presumably, the wife, after voicing whimpering resistance, is ready and willing–all add up to shock-worthy blips and nothing more.
Is it all meant to represent European societal breakdown at its crudest and most hopeless? Whatever the case, Weekend raises both chuckles and hackles. Ultimately, though, Godard, the provocateur, can’t cohere his material into anything of emotional or philosophical value. I say “philosophical,” not “political,” because politics do not adhere well to the storytelling form; we go to stories not to be told how to think or what to think, but to share with the storyteller something of a kinship in our view of the world, a common philosophy about how human beings relate to one another. Not that Godard was ever interested in garnering a sympathetic audience, but his earliest works — all audacious send-ups of form, genre, and social alienation — have a conscious wink-and-a-nudge about them, a sense that their maker was a critic without being a curmudgeon. But with Weekend and with every work afterwards, he drifted further out into the outer limits of his own cranky mind. He drifted further away from the midstream, the place where his earlier character-driven narratives and his post-modern musings flowed together at their early-to-mid-60’s best.
Luckily, Weekend didn’t spell the End of Cinema, but the eclipsing of Godard’s own brand of cinema by the fire-flash of groundbreaking character-driven stories that began to come out of Hollywood soon after Weekend’s release. Thank you, Easy Rider.
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Valérie Lagrange, Yves Beneyton, Paul Gégauff, Daniel Pommereulle