by Tony Dayoub
Shot digitally by Nathalie Durand, Le Week-End is a cut above the usual romances directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill). The freedom offered by using a lighter, more mobile camera has also loosened Michell up creatively. It's no wonder Le Week-End reminded the director that there's a whole history of lighter, run-and-gun cinema that stretches at least as far back as the French New Wave.
Here, an improvisatory shooting style is applied not to the kind of young fresh couples or triangles one is familiar with from Godard's early films, but to a retirement-age couple that can at least be said to have grown up revering that generation of iconoclasts. Jim Broadbent plays Nick, a well-respected writer feeling obsolete after a forced retirement from his university post. Lindsay Duncan is his wife Meg, a teacher who has all but disappeared in Nick's long shadow. They both return to Paris for the first time since their honeymoon to rekindle the dying spark of their relationship. But the strain of leading separate lives under the same roof, the feeling of emptiness after their children's departure to start their own lives, and the rise in attention from other men towards Meg is driving a wedge between the two.
The gorgeous nocturnal textures enhanced by digital video lend a polished, fresh sheen to what might have easily been a stale rehash of a familiar autumnal romantic film trope. It has also inspired Michell to borrow some of the New Wave's jump-cut techniques, mostly energizing the earlier part of the film when we are still trying to get to know Nick and Meg. But the introduction of a third character, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum)—a flirtatious former protege of Nick's and now a towering intellectual figure in his own right—leads to a series of contrivances that nearly sink Le Week-End.
Nick and Meg attend a dinner party at Morgan's, where both end up in phony sounding conversations meant to dramatize their individual dilemmas. Whether it's Meg warning Morgan's trophy wife about her potential obsolescence or Meg getting hit on by a smooth party guest, the message is clear that she is feeling ignored and unloved. Nick ends up wandering into the spare room where Morgan's son, visiting from America, is toking up. This clues us in on Nick's depression over his increasing irrelevance, his sense that he is out of touch with the younger generation, and how this all might be contributing to the insecurity concerning his relationship with his wife.
Michell's lack of confidence in this portion of the film is evident by his need to contrive pointed conversations to get us in each character's personal headspace when what's most attractive about Le Week-End's early going is the fact that Nick and Meg are more opaque and mysterious. This is only compounded by Michell directly quoting Godard's Band of Outsiders, not once but twice, the second time a little cutesier and more distracting than the first. Fortunately, Broadbent and Duncan are so appealing in their respective roles that they are able to overcome Michell's missteps. And they are just that, missteps. Le Week-End is, in the end, a step in a new, more rewarding direction for Michell whose storytelling here is considerably less predestined than in past films.