LE WEEK-END B+
Perhaps Woody Allen’s decision to globetrot throughout Europe to make films has had a bigger effect than we realized, beginning in England with MATCH POINT (2005), and continuing for eight years through Spain, Paris, and Rome, as this audience-pleasing film originates with Allen’s mix of comedy and tragedy while immersing his characters in self-deprecating humor. English director Roger Michell, collaborating for the fourth time with screenwriter Hanhif Kureishi, has similarly produced an intelligently written comic romance with tragic overtones, all set in the streets of Paris for a couple’s 30th wedding anniversary, which offers both hope and the possibilities of renewal, but also the chance that it could all be coming to an end. The featured actors express an unusually wide range of emotions with career defining roles, including the dependable and ever reliable Jim Broadbent as Nick and his late blooming wife Meg, Lindsay Duncan, both probably in their 60’s. Their lives have been defined by work and responsibility, where little time has been spent on their precarious relationship, as they’ve been too busy to think about themselves. As is often the case, people have differing expectations when they reach retirement age, as Meg is interested in starting anew, learning to play the piano, to try several new languages, or how to dance the Tango, a life where she’ll continually be challenged, while Nick feels a bit overwhelmed by all that ambition, as together they can’t even decide what kind of tiles to use for their bathroom repair. But what’s immediately evident is the skillful interplay between the two characters, where they no longer hide their feelings behind polite standards of convention, but simply blurt out whatever they feel at the moment, often devastatingly blunt and hurtful, while at other times they melt in each other’s arms.
From the moment they arrive in Paris, they sense trouble, as the hotel where they spent their honeymoon 30 years ago is a bit shabby and rundown, causing them to immediately shift gears, taking a whirlwind cab ride through Paris pointing out the sites before stopping in front of the most prestigious hotel they’ve seen, which is booked solid except for their most luxurious suite, the one Tony Blair stayed at when visiting Paris. So they throw caution to the wind and forget about money for a change, as the Eiffel Tower view from the balcony couldn’t be more intoxicating, and instead they enjoy walking through the streets, seeing the sites, and choosing elegant restaurants with elaborately designed meals. With their marriage at stake, what’s continuously on display is a choreography of mood swings, creating a dangerous minefield to negotiate with both dropping bombs on each other while also having to face the onslaught of incoming fire, mired in a build-up of petty resentments that suddenly have an easy target, as if both are wearing bulls eyes on their backs, where the petty bickering can be deeply disturbing or laceratingly funny, as they continue to get themselves into ridiculous situations. Their ongoing sarcasm is both deadly accurate but also self-protective, as it’s easy to hide behind humor. Nonetheless, Nick is under the assumption that Meg intends to leave him, where for him the idea of facing the future alone feels doomed from the outset, where he continually expresses his love for her, but sadly Meg just leaves him hanging. While Nick was a progressive activist in his youth turned into a middle aged, largely ignored philosophy professor, it’s clear the fire has gone out of their marriage, where Nick pleads and bargains for a hint of sex that never comes, as if Meg keeps it locked in a storage vault, a throwback to the more prudish Victorian times when women wore chastity belts.
While the film is a theatrical unraveling of a long drawn-out bitterness that has developed between them, they’re also seen running through the streets like young carefree adolescents, even cleverly escaping from an upscale restaurant without paying the bill, where they’re reverting to behavior from an earlier age, as if this will somehow jumpstart their romance and rejuvenate their marriage. Bearing a similarity to a younger but equally endangered married couple in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013), or Roberto Rossellini’s seethingly angry divorce among the ruins film Journey to Italy (1954), the common ingredient in each is the raging female disappointment both in the men they married and the emptiness of their lives, where the towering performances by women, including Lindsay Duncan’s superbly realized exposé of middle age fears creeping into her life, are powerful indicators of the kind of searing dramatic intensity that can be shown through intelligently written middle-aged dramas. While Nick amusingly listens to Dylan on his headset sneering “How does it feel…to be on your own?” Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (Live 1966) YouTube (4:19), perhaps hoping to recapture the boldness of youth, there are also images playing on the hotel television of Godard’s 1964 film BAND OF OUTSIDERS (Bande à Part), showing the freewheeling young heroes Running through the Louvre YouTube (53 seconds), a display of their rebellious energy. The film loses some of its brutal honesty, however, in its insistence to remain commercially entertaining, to remain audience friendly, where there’s a dinner scene ripe for the kind of mad chaos inspired by Maurice Pialat, for instance, in À Nos Amours (To Our Loves) (1983), where 60-year olds never express such a burst of liberating pandemonium, where instead a humiliatingly awkward scene is toned down and given a polite return to maturity, but not before they have a chance to spontaneously restage the infamous jukebox scene with Anna Karina dancing the Madison, a scene that needs no subtitling, Café! Dance scene from Bande à Part (1964) on Vimeo (4:05). Despite personally impactive scenes of confessional honesty, the film also plays out like a working-class fantasy, imagining what might happen if you had a chance to repair your broken marriage by spending the weekend in one of the most upscale hotels in Paris.