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Le Week-End | Review

Meant to Be Spent Alone: Michell’s Latest a Welcome Return to Quality Filmmaking

After a pair of mainstream US misfires, South African born director Roger Michell returns to the UK for his latest film, Le Week-End, a portrait of a married heterosexual couple after thirty years of marriage that is as moving as it is engaging and astute. Enhanced by a pair of performances from a melancholy Jim Broadbent and an incredibly prickly yet gloriously acerbic Lindsay Duncan, Michell once again utilizes the strengths of screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and creates a visual journey out of what is, mostly, a sparring of contradictory wills through a series of well written dialogues. Though best known for his 1999 Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant starrer, Notting Hill, his latest ranks with his other top tier titles like The Mother and Venus.

Deciding to celebrate their 30th anniversary in Paris, university professor Nick (Broadbent) and teacher Meg (Duncan) seem to bicker jovially on the way to their hotel, which leads them to a feisty impasse when Meg decides that the room Nick booked is a dump, drably plastered in beige and without much of a view. As she absconds in a taxi, her mood is elevated as they drive aimlessly around Paris until she spies a swank hotel where she insists they try to stay instead. Reluctant, Nick agrees and they attempt to move on with enjoying their weekend. However, the calm doesn’t seem to last for long. As the couple traverses Paris, they experience a series of considerable ups and downs. The rather thorny and unaffectionate Meg makes it clear that she no longer wants to teach but pursue other dreams she has, and the presence of Nick doesn’t seem to be completely necessary to the pursuit of that happiness. On the other hand, it’s clear that Meg may be the only thing Nick has to keep him afloat, as he reveals that he’s being forced into early retirement from the university after a verbal tiff with a student. A surprise run-in with Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), an old protégé turned successful author from Nick’s past, sees them invited to a party celebrating his latest publication, which becomes an instance for Meg and Nick to reexamine their own relationship.

The spirit of cultural revolution gone to seed seems to seethe underneath the surface of Le Week-End, its sixtysomething couple a bit alarmed and embittered at the fact that their ambitions have simmered into the sometimes comfort of middle class existence. Unwinding in his hotel room, Nick chooses to have a drink and blare Bob Dylan in is iPod, whilst Meg turns on Godard’s Band of Outsiders on the television (a clip which Michell pays delirious homage to in a perfectly touching flourish in the final frames). An uncomfortable reunion with the rather ridiculous Morgan (Goldblum in a fantastic supporting role that severely alters the energy of the film), who converses openly about the ambitions that fueled their youths, also happens to be in stark contrast with Nick and Meg’s lifestyle since he seems to be in mid-life crises mode, starting family number two with a much younger Parisian wife. While Meg and Nick are hardly the sparring vipers of a George and Martha, theirs is an excellent portrait of the ups and downs of sharing life, long term, with another human being.

At times grating and uncomfortable, Le Week-End feels like when one is trapped into witnessing the private degradations of couples we think we know, only to discover that no matter what race, age, income, sexual orientation or religious inclination, spending life with someone we profess to love is a unique yet common experience for all.

★★★ 1/2 / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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