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Criterion Collection: Weekend | Blu-ray Review

Weekend Jean-Luc GodardWeekend capped Jean-Luc Godard’s insanely productive year of 1967, and can rightly be considered the director’s Götterdämmerung. Both projects make their respective points with sledgehammer subtlety, and along with Godard’s previous features that year, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and La Chinoise, Weekend consummates an anti-consumerist thematic cycle.

As one of its frequent title cards proclaims, Godard approached Weekend as “a film found in a dump.” It is a Dadaist, no holds barred decimation of modern French society filled with shocking violence, Marxist theory and some really, really awful driving. Told through a series of set pieces –often with elaborate and impressive production techniques– Weekend leaves no aspect of class struggle unexplored or unscathed. As the world lurches by in fits and starts, Godard’s ever evolving absurdist tableau amuses, stuns and mystifies, casting a cinematic butterfly net over a society at war with itself.

The film’s narrative frame concerns the misadventures of Corinne and Roland Durand (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne), a 30-ish bourgeois couple unhappily ensconced in a blandly generic Paris suburb. On the rare occasions they’re not bickering, the couple spend their days engaged in adultery and devising far-fetched schemes to murder each other. When the couple pack up their tiny convertible and depart to the country for a family visit, things go off the rails quickly as a squabble over a minor fender bender ends in gunplay, and Corinne and Roland find themselves stuck in a traffic jam from the bowels of hell. This iconic sequence, which justifiably cemented Godard’s place in cinema history, really must be seen to believed. However, this masterwork of staging and coordination is only an amuse-bouche for the splendidly eccentric feast to come, as Weekend eventually morphs into a post-apocalyptic road movie, crazily traversing a landscape of self-inflicted destruction.

Often lost within its barrage of manifestos and mayhem is the fact that Weekend is at heart a comedy, with a decidedly dark tonality for sure, but a comedy nonetheless. And after the initial shock of the film’s rampant anarchy, its humorous edges become sharper and more luminous. As Corinne and Roland stagger into a quaint village they nearly collide with a tractor driven by a farmer loudly singing the communist anthem L’Internationale. A few minutes later, we see the aftermath of yet another automobile accident, as the giant tractor has crashed into a shiny new sports car, leaving its young bourgeois driver in a pool of blood. The car’s other occupant, an enraged young woman dressed in the latest fashions, berates the farmer claiming her boyfriend had the right-of-way because he was “young, rich and handsome.” Rarely have the underpinnings of class struggle been presented in such starkly honest terms. Not only is its refreshing candor hilarious, the scene has a clarion ring of truth in this age of pampered billionaires.

Godard has always had a tendency to stay too long with scenes that don’t really go anywhere; sometimes for effect and sometimes out of what seems to be a kind of writerly stubbornness. While Weekend is not free of extended clunkers –the Lewis Carroll themed parody is too esoterically clever for its own good– the director generally keeps to a steady, proscribed momentum, and the film’s outlandish wriggles and twirls remain alluring. His diorama of flaming automobiles, violent hitchhikers and magically appearing historical figures form a visual wash that soothes the bitterness of Godard’s obscure literary allusions and political diatribes.

From classical music concerts given in dusty barns to the plaintive cries of garbage collectors displaced by the Algerian war, Godard takes the nation of France to the woodshed for its Gaullist follies. Similarly, Corrine and Roland eventually arrive at a twisted version of the Garden of Eden for a scruffy date with destiny. As the Durand’s petty world of inheritance and Hermes is wiped out by a return to the basics of survival, Weekend completes its cycle of societal deconstruction. And this new world, like Corinne’s unusual lunch, may be logical and just although its something of an acquired taste.

Disc Review

Criterion’s superb transfer breathes new life into Godard’s artsy warhorse, giving the image crisp new colors and vibrancy while remaining true to the film’s crusty, available light aesthetic. Blacks are wonderfully rich and pure, and never succumb to hazy milkiness. The day exteriors retain a cool edge, yet warm tones from clothing (and burning automobiles) pop with life. The original aspect of 1.66:1 is maintained.

The audio mix is in the original mono and it works fine, although with such a complex track it must have been tempting to go multi-channel. Weekend is a film of screeching cacophony, with car horns, gunshots, shouting revolutionaries and pounding drums adding to the din.

New video essay by writer and filmmaker Kent Jones
In this 25 minute piece, Jones lends historical perspective on Weekend and its place in Godard’s oeuvre. Describing the director as a “documentarian of the future,“ Jones examines Godard’s keen interest in political revolution and traces the roots of Weekend to his disgust with de Gaulle’s policies. Jones also discovers interesting parallels to Bergman’s Personna and the work of Chabrol. In all, this well produced essay is must viewing for those interested in film scholarship.

Archival interviews with actors Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and assistant director Claude Miller
A series of separate interviews were edited together to create this 48 minute compilation. Coutard, as one might expect, deals mainly with technical issues, including the construction of that amazing traffic jam shot which he says “required every stick of dolly track in France.” Darc and Yanne, in an interview filmed in 1967, offer a few brief insights into Godard’s direction techniques. Miller’s interview gets the bulk of the attention, and he speaks quite highly of Godard and his surprising practicality. The piece will be of interest to Godard’s fans, but after Jones’ excellent and comprehensive essay it seems superfluous.

Excerpt from a French television program on director Jean-Luc Godard, featuring on-set footage from Weekend shot by filmmaker Philippe Garrel
This behind-the-scenes from 1967 features commentary from filmmaker Jean-Michel Barjol interspersed with shots of Godard directing Weekend. Barjol describes Godard as a “DIY genius” and cautions young filmmakers against trying to emulate the director’s unique style. The 8 minute segment contains many interesting glimpses of Godard at work with the nuts and bolts of production.

The French and American versions are included. The French version is abstract and dreamy, while U.S. audiences saw a faster paced, more self-explanatory incarnation complete with a narrator.

A booklet featuring an essay by critic and novelist Gary Indiana, selections from Alain Bergala’s book Godard au travail: Les années 60, and an excerpt from a 1969 interview with Godard
This richly produced 40 page volume is a superb and welcome addition. Lavishly illustrated with 15 pages of film stills, the booklet features lots of supplemental reading. Of particular interest to Godard fans is an excerpt from the director’s interview with Rolling Stone.

Final Thoughts

As of this writing Godard, just a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday, is as busy as ever. His current production Goodbye to Language is slated to be filmed in 3D. After a long career that includes 36 theatrical features and countless documentaries and shorts, it’s easy to take Jean-Luc Godard for granted, or worse, dismiss him as a spent force. As Criterion’s new Blu-ray makes clear, Weekend remains vital, and not just as a historical artifact. Strangely, its vision of class warfare sparked by greed and consumerism has an even stronger resonance today than in the 1960s. Americans have just endured a long and bitter presidential campaign with these same philosophical conflicts at its epicenter. Weekend’s coarse and absurdist textures have earned it the status of true art house classic, and its eerie prescience continues to ring true 45 years later.

David Anderson is a 25 year veteran of the film and television industry, and has produced and directed over 2000 TV commercials, documentaries and educational videos. He has filmed extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean for such clients as McDonalds, General Motors and DuPont. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Reygadas (Silent Light), Weerasathakul (Syndromes and a Century), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Caché), Ceylon (Climates), Andersson (You the Living), Denis (35 Shots of Rum), Malick (The Tree of Life), Leigh (Another Year), Cantet (The Class)

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