Shock the middle class

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan

Le Week-End (M)
Review by Emmet O’Cuana

Le Week-End opens with an anxiously bickering couple travelling to Paris via the Channel Tunnel. Their slights are cutting but affectionate, the various crises (who has the euros, who knows the way to the hotel) so recognisably conventional the film appears to be setting out to be a mild romantic comedy.

The couple, Meg and Nick, are played by Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent, and there’s an initial fear that these two gifted actors are being wasted in a slight story about married empty-nesters.

Except the screenplay comes courtesy of Hanif Kureishi, so any such fears are completely unfounded. Instead Le Week-End quickly becomes a reflective piece about two former ’60s radicals whose passions have guttered out.

Nick seems to be under the impression that this trip to the city of love is an opportunity to act out Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. A dismissive Meg oscillates between manic extremes, frustrated by a lifetime of disappointment.

Professional failure and ungrateful children have already combined to drive a wedge between the couple, with additional resentments that slowly become revealed festering away beneath the surface of their relationship.

This film is unflinching in its depiction of a marriage that has survived many years. The occasion of Meg and Nick’s 30 year anniversary has caused both to question why they are still together.

The film also dissects the tendency of couples, after a period of dependable companionship, to take each other for granted.
One scene featuring Mary’s shock at an unexpected revelation captures the perfect note of wounded pride.

Where Le Week-End excels is in contrasting this reassessment of a long-lasting marriage with the disappointments of the Baby Boomer generation’s expectations for the future.

A heart-to-heart between Nick and the teenage son of an old college friend attempts to sum all of this up a little too neatly, but the theme of youthful enthusiasm coming up against wearied experience is nevertheless well presented. Kureishi and director Roger Mitchell’s previous collaboration, Venus with Peter O’Toole, similarly picked at the theme of aging and frustrated desires.

There is again more of an emphasis on the feelings of the male protagonist – Duncan’s haughty but wounded spouse is more reactive to Broadbent’s outbursts.

Still there is a great poignancy to Nick’s attempts to recapture the youthful spirit of the ’60s, from rocking out to Bob Dylan to recreating the famous dance scene from Godard’s Bande à part. The warm and evocative music of Nick Drake also features throughout on the soundtrack.

Duncan and Broadbent are excellent as the feuding couple.

Nick, in particular (if played by a weaker actor), would have been a whinging pompous oaf, but Broadbent has enough of a finely tuned common touch to make the character easily relatable.

Lindsay Duncan is fantastic, taking full advantage of the film’s stripped back theatrical style to deliver a restrained and unmannered performance.

The late entry of Jeff Goldblum into the proceedings, playing a once-precocious follower of Nick’s during his university days turned bestselling pseudo-academic man of letters, carries the film neatly along to an emotional climax.

Le Week-End represents an interesting recent trend in cinema, joining the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet, movies aimed at an older audience.

Instead of green-screen spectacle and comic book violence appealing to teenage boys, these films focus on human drama.
The emotional lives of these characters are genuine and the continuing audience-appeal of the actors shows there is a strong market for these pictures.

With plenty of memorable, if downright cutting, dialogue, great central performances and nicely chosen music from Nick Drake, Le Week-End makes for an enjoyably provocative cinematic experience.

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