It’s almost 40 years since Jean-Luc Godard threw a wobbler, completely abandoned the conventional narrative format of his mainly fresh and frothy New Wave entertainments and, influenced by the current climate in France and Vietnam, took the political direction indicated in such films as Le Petit Soldat, La Chinoise and Two Or Three Things I Know About Her onto another level entirely. Weekend is an all out attack on the senses, a politically charged, yet personal and nightmarish vision of societal disarray. It was certainly controversial in its time for its filming style as much as its bleak view of the world, but its extraordinary imagery and method is still unsurpassed, remaining challenging, shocking and no less relevant today.
A generally unpleasant bourgeois couple are travelling in their car on their way to Oinville. The woman’s father is dying and she and her husband want to get their hands on his inheritance and will do anything to get their share. Crossing a French countryside littered with the wrecks of cars and dead bodies, they get into disputes with other car owners, get caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, witness violent clashes between peasants in tractors and rich businessmen in sports cars, get hijacked by a man claiming to be the son of God and, no doubt due to the viciousness and shallowness of their characters, they are frequently shot at. When their own car goes up in flames they hitch their way to Oinville through an increasingly violent series of encounters.
The principal characters in Weekend are utterly vile and dislikeable. Mireille Darc depicts Corinne as shallow, superficial and ruthlessly self-centred – “My Hermès handbag!”, she screams as they crawl out of their car which has exploded into flames, later stripping a pair of designer trousers off a dead body lying beside one of the wrecked cars that litter the countryside. Her shallow consumerist mentality is matched by the avarice of her husband Roland, played by Jean Yanne, who rifles through the pockets of the dead bodies and whose greed takes him to even more violent and extreme lengths when his mother-in-law won’t agree to a share of the millions that have been left as an inheritance. The couple’s selfish indifference to the plight of others extends to a mutual despising of each other, Roland sitting by unconcerned while his wife is raped at the roadside, Corrine telling graphic stories of sexual encounters with other men and cannibalistically feasting on her husbands bones by the end of the film.
Weekend presents a nightmarish vision of society which has descended into absolute anarchy. It’s an extreme vision, but one that is only too close to reality. This is not merely Godard’s vision of the future – even though it was uncannily in touch with the feeling that was to spill over into the Paris student riots of 1968 – this is today’s society teetering on the brink of what it could be tomorrow. The psychological make-up of the characters is accurate even if it is an outward expression of a mentality that is usually kept restrained. The central scene of the film is an extraordinary unedited tracking shot of a traffic hold-up on a country road, the car a superb metaphor for the enclosed hermetic existence for the modern lifestyle and a superb example of that mentality at the same time. The prestige that people invest in their cars and the protectiveness with which they defend their little position on the road while going nowhere is a perfect mirror for the society Godard is showing. This is society as road rage - you intrude into my petty little illusion of glamour and prestige and I’ll take a shotgun to you. The metaphor is extended to a black African and an Algerian driving a rubbish truck, yet even their situation – which is expounded on at length in their Marxist-Leninist denunciations of imperialism and capitalism – is preferable to the disintegrating society around them, the now car-less bourgeois couple sitting on their rubbish heap begging to take the humble food from their mouths.
But it’s difficult to pin Godard down to any one interpretation and a mistake to try to expect his films to conform to the straightforward conventional symbolism - the director actively defying any such easy explanation of his work, using images instinctively and unconventionally, tossing out ideas and seeing if they fit. Amongst this barrage of polemic and absurdity, some ideas work and others they don’t, but they are always challenging and often stunning, not to mention frequently blackly funny. The formal aspect itself is often mocking of cinema, Godard trying to disconcert the viewer to his intentions by proclaiming the film in his intertitles as “A Film Adrift In The Cosmos” and “A Film Found On A Dump”, simultaneously aggrandising and mocking its self-importance. Elsewhere Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard loop images and scenes, have film slipping off reels, frequently cut to black, make use of trademark Godardian huge coloured intertitles with obscure slogans and have characters make self referential comments like - “What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people”. It may all seem pretentious and obscure, but it makes a point that could not be made as effectively in any other manner, attacking the capitalist notion of cinema as money-making entertainment from within by destroying the narrative format with a style as anarchic as the society he is depicting. Without the daring, transgressive filming techniques pioneered here and the absurd and deeply violent imagery that is just as shocking now as it must have been in 1967, it’s hard to imagine the existence of films like Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown and Time Of The Wolf, Gaspar Noé’s Seul Contre Tous or Cronenburg’s Crash (or indeed much of J.G. Ballard’s work - although Ballard is also a product of the 60's generation - which from High Rise right through to his most recent Millennium People is littered with the imagery of a decadent bourgeoisie in a disintegrating society).
Weekend is released on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is encoded for Region 2.
The picture quality is reasonably good considering that the film was never meant to look like a pristine piece of cinema. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard refers in the extra features to how the film was shot on the fastest film available, which would certainly account for the unnatural colours, which look underexposed and glaring, and account for the lack of detail in blacks. It would also account for the level of grain visible, but this is never more than would be there on the negative anyway. Macro-blocking artefacts cause problems from time to time and are certainly noticeable in earlier scenes – even the film’s title image – as seen on the DVD cover – wavers from side to side. There are one or two scratches, but no great amount of damage, and the image is rather soft, but apart from the unfortunate digital blocking throughout, the transfer probably reflects the original quite well. The film is presented anamorphically in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is dull, but again the original soundtrack would hardly have been of any great quality. There is some evidence of minor background noise and some distortion of the sound, but it’s generally adequate.
English subtitles are optional and are mostly fine. Occasionally they fail to translate some of Godard's flash intertitles as they are busy translating dialogue going on in the background. Perhaps additional titles above could have got around this problem. Some plays on French words and obscure intertitles that are impossible to translate accurately into English are also left untranslated.
Interview with Raoul Coutard (18:56)
The cinematographer for no less than 17 Godard films, Coutard provides some interesting information on Godard’s state of mind at the time of making the film and his quite horrible behaviour towards the actress Mireille Darc. Interviewer and Godard biographer Colin McCabe does his best to draw more information out of Coutard, but the cinematographer is as mystified as anyone as to Godard’s real motivations. The picture quality of the interview is a bit dodgy and often out of focus.
Mike Figgis on ‘Weekend’ (23:19)
Mike Figgis gives an interesting perspective on Godard’s filmmaking techniques and their influence – particularly examining the director’s highly effective use of music.
Brief biographical information and selected filmographies are provided for Godard, Coutard, Figgis and McCabe.
Weekend is a black, bitter condemnation of modern society, showing it stripped of its facades of manners, morals and lies, revealing the hypocrisy, greed, prejudice and shallowness that lies beneath. It could hardly be more violent, more brutal or more bitter, transgressing not only the cinematic rules regarding plot, structure, narrative and character, but every tenet of civilised behaviour in a way that had not been seen on screen before. At times it can seem to be a hate-fuelled rant, a political tract or just a venting of spleen – but it is completely uncompromising, challenging, hard-hitting and shocking – even by today’s standards of New French Extremism. Like many of those films and like much of Godard’s more recent films, Weekend is often easier to admire than like, is frequently obscure and boring, but its points remain relevant and modern, and it is still a highly influential piece of filmmaking. As Raoul Coutard remarks in the extra features, often Godard’s films will confuse or bore the viewer senseless, but occasionally there are flashes of inspiration and inventiveness that still take cinema far beyond anything done by most of his contemporaries. Weekend is like that – sometimes confusing, occasionally pretentious and often obscure – but when it hits its target, it’s exciting, vital, funny and quite brilliant.