130. WEEKEND (1967)

“What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people.”–Roland

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne

PLOT: Corrine and Roland are a married couple who are cheating on each other and who hope to inherit money from Corrine’s dying father. They set off on a weekend trip to travel to the father’s deathbed, but find the French countryside is a giant traffic jam filled with burning wrecks. As they struggle to reach their destination they meet fictional and historical characters, magical beings, and feral hippie terrorists.

Still from Weekend (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • According to writer/critic Gary Indiana, Godard based the structure of his story on Friedrich Engel’s “The Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State,” but reversed the historical progression so that the movie proceeds from civilization to savagery.
  • Mireille Darc, who had starred in the types of popular comedies and spy films Godard despised, petitioned the director for a part in one of his movies. He agreed to cast her in Weekend; when she asked him why, he answered, “because I don’t like you… and the character in my film must be unpleasant.”
  • The scene where Mireille Darc tells her lover about a threesome with another man is a parody of a similar scene from ‘s Persona (1966), and also a reference to George Bataille’s surrealist/erotic novella “The Story of the Eye.”
  • Godard often makes literary and historical references without announcing them. Some of the characters who appear in the film are Robespierre’s lieutenant Louise Antoine de Saint-Just, Tom Thumb, and Emily Brontë.
  • Weekend was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency.
  • When Weekend wrapped, Godard reportedly told his usual crew to look for work elsewhere, as he would be abandoning commercial film from that point forward. (This story is probably apocryphal, since Godard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard didn’t remember such a formal announcement; nonetheless, Godard did cease making commercial movies after Weekend, and Coutard and the other regular crew members didn’t work with the director again for many years).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The celebrated traffic jam, an eight-minute tracking shot scored to the sound of honking horns. The camera surveys a lineup of stalled vehicles, and our interest never flags as we pass people tossing balls from car to car or playing chess in the middle of the highway, autos upturned on the side of the road or smashed into trees, and trailers housing monkeys and llamas, until we reach the tragic source of the congestion. Roland and Corrine zoom past increasingly angry motorists in their convertible, sometimes racing ahead of the camera and sometimes falling behind it, and we slowly realize the strangest feature of the backup: there’s nothing blocking the opposite lane, and no reason the other drivers can’t simply zoom around the trouble.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Introduced as “a film adrift in the cosmos” and as “a film found in a scrap heap,” Weekend is, more than anything, a nasty and bitter assault on bourgeois French culture of 1967: a revolutionary rejection of consumerism, propriety, and even (or especially) of the need for plots that “make sense.” Today, Godard’s mix of Marxism, alienation, transgression, Surrealism and fourth-wall breaking seems “oh-so Sixties”; but the passionate hatred that fuels this ambitious attack on good taste and good sense endures, giving Weekend an anarchic vitality that survives its turbulent era.


Original French trailer for Weekend

COMMENTS: Weekend is both a satire and a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Certainly, Corrine and Roland, who care for nothing that can’t be bought (a devastated Corrine screams “my Hermes handbag!” as she flees a burning car, ignoring a man whose flaming corpse has dropped to the ground), are objects of scorn. But Godard doesn’t present them as the object lessons of traditional satire so much as he toys with them as creations he can vicariously torture. He takes the society that breeds Corrines and Rolands and scorches it, wrecking its proud symbols of consumer culture and leaving them strewn burning across the French countryside, eventually handing his charges over to savage hippie revolutionaries who have reverted to cannibalism. It’s a deliciously nasty exercise, and Godard’s unrepentant cruelty in eviscerating those he hates is the thing that’s most appealing about this revenge fantasy wherein capitalist culture eventually eats itself.

There is no doubt that Roland and Corrine are two of the most horrible, least redeemable characters found in world cinema; child molesters and serial killers have been treated more sympathetically than these two. When we first meet them each is secretly planning to bump off the other as soon as they’ve traveled to the town of Oinville and secured Corrine’s father’s inheritance. The irony is that these two are such a perfect match for each other: they work together as a team to steal a car from a musically inclined lover boy; they’re both equally abusive to Emily Brontë, whose poetic responses are useless to them in their quest to find Oinville; and they both have a nasty habit of fighting dirty, biting people on the arm if they get too close to their convertible. Of course, it isn’t all for one and one for all with these lovebirds; when a hobo decides to rape Corrine as she sleeps in a ditch, her husband remains calmly smoking his cigarette, undisturbed by her screams. She easily forgives him for not coming to her aid; she didn’t expect him to stick out his neck for her, or even to care about her suffering. She would have done the same—that is to say, nothing—for him if the situation was reversed. The couple don’t hate each other, they simply view their better half as someone to use when their interests coincide, and to get rid of when they are no longer useful. Their attitude towards the rest of the world is equally selfish; they are annoyed by anyone they meet in their travels who can’t help them reach their financial goals (“these jerks are dead,” complains a hitchhiking Roland when bloody corpses in the road won’t answer his request for directions). In their sociopathy, the couple are no different than the hateful civilization around them. Early in the film they calmly watch a couple savagely beat another motorist unconscious over a fender bender from the comfort of their apartment window; later, the two will parody this same scene, getting into a fight with a mother and her obnoxious child when they bump her car as they’re leaving on their weekend excursion. They are a loathsome pair, but they come from a loathsome world.

The world of Weekend isn’t just odious and cruel, it’s also senseless and irrational. Starting with the absurd traffic jam that greets Roland and Corrine as they set off on their patricidal quest, reality itself is soon revealed to be in as much of a wreckage as the burning husks of cars they discover littering the countryside. A bourgeois woman and a proletariat man argue politics after a fatal crash, but are eventually united by Antisemitism. Roland and Corrine are taken hostage by a miracle-performing bandit who claims to be the bastard son of God and Alexandre Dumas. A field of wrecks turns into a flock of sheep. Roland keeps insisting he’s a character in a film (and in a rotten film, to boot, one where he only meets crazy people). Godard plays with the structural elements of the film, too: when Corrine, clad in bra and panties, is describing an erotic encounter to her lover, the ominous b-movie music swells at random, sometimes drowning out her voice. Colorful red, white and blue intertitles break up the action, sometimes naming chapters, sometimes marking the passage of time in impossible ways. The film appears to be mis-threaded in the projector during a crash sequence. Everything is strange, fractured, and off-center; the two revolting characters drift from one surreal scenario to another, and each new incident is unpredictable and off-the-cuff, as if the film is making itself up as it goes along.

Taking so many chances, and improvising so many of the scenarios, it was predictable that some of the gambles in Weekend would wind up duds. Although one could argue the merits of various earlier scenes, around the halfway point the film takes a couple of digressions that seriously impair the film’s momentum. The first is a scene set in a rural courtyard where a man plays a Mozart sonata, pausing to pontificate about the maestro and his music. The camera swirls around in a circle to show villagers walking about as Corrine and Roland rest and smoke. The scene’s not bad, but it doesn’t fit into Weekend thematically, and it’s out of character for Corrine and Roland to stand by calmly while someone plays beautiful music without spitting out obscenities and demanding someone give them a ride. The other patience-trying scene is somewhat infamous: Renata Adler, the New York Times film critic who gave Weekend a glowing review, actually suggested audiences might want to go outside and get a smoke and a cup of coffee when it came on. Our travelers have hitched a ride and are helping to haul garbage to pay their way. Two laborers, an Arab and an African, deliver a long, pompous lecture directly to the camera covering their theories on fascism, colonialism and Maoist dialectics. The politics are dated, the tone insultingly preachy, and the speech was arguably intended to incite real-life violence against the ruling classes by suggesting that black American soldiers returning from Vietnam could use techniques they learned from the Viet Cong to kill whites. Most of all, the eight minute disquisition is boring, and marks the only time in the movie where we can sympathize with Roland and Corrine, as they stare at the pair with dull expressions. Thematically, this scene does fit in with the story, at least; as the garbagemen speak we see shots of dead bodies lying in the road from earlier in the film, implying that these revolutionaries might be responsible for the symbolic destruction our protagonists ignore as they journey across pre-apocalyptic France.

Unfortunately, that lecture scene was a harbinger of where Godard’s cinema was moving. After Weekend he would abandon narrative filmmaking altogether for a decade, making didactic Marxist films that were usually of little interest to those outside of his political circle with other filmmakers in a loose association he called the Dziga Vertov Group. (Addiction to a political ideology has destroyed more great artists than heroin and drink put together). Godard must have realized where he was heading; the movie ends with a title card reading “the end… of cinema.” Depending on your vantage point, Weekend is either Godard’s last accessible movie, or his first inaccessible one. Whichever side of the dividing line you believe it falls on, it marks a clear fracture point in the oeuvre of the man who began his career by sparking the French New Wave with beloved classics like Breathless, and ended it making highly theoretical political movies that almost no one saw. Although much of his output is strange and experimental, Weekend is probably Godard’s only film that could be called “Surrealist.” In fact, it is tempting to say that Weekend is Godard’s attempt to make a satire in the style of Luis Buñuel. He explicitly references the Surrealist master by titling one of Weekend‘s chapters “The Exterminating Angel”; the crazy temporal intertitles (we are told one scene takes place “a Tuesday in the 1000 Years War”) suggest the similarly implausible chronological notices from Un Chien Andalou. But Godard influenced Buñuel as much as he borrowed from him: two years later, Buñuel used the idea of fictional and historical characters who interact with a pair of travelers as the main structure for The Milky Way. Although Weekend suggests Godard was a natural at the Surrealist form, the irrational aesthetic wasn’t pedantic enough to serve his interests. Nonetheless, Weekend stands out among Godard’s work because of its invention and its passion; and especially for its unforgiving malice towards the status quo of de Gaulle’s France. In many ways, it’s the ultimate radical movie of the 1960s.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s [Godard’s] vision of Hell and it ranks with the greatest… we’re hardly aware of the magnitude of the writer/director’s conception until after we’re caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and further and becoming more nearly inescapable…”–Pauline Kael, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)

“…the film must be seen, for its power, ambition, humor, and scenes of really astonishing beauty. … It is an appalling comedy. There is nothing like it at all.”–Renata Adler, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

“This apocalyptic farce—Alice in Wonderland as reconceived by the Marquis de Sade—would mark both the high point and the end of Godard’s meteoric career as a popular artist.”–J. Hoberman, The Village Voice (2011 re-release)

IMDB LINK: Weekend (1967)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Weekend (1967) – The Criterion Collection – The Criterion Collection’s Weekend page features an informative essay by Gary Indiana and a photo gallery of the many car wrecks seen in the movie

Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” (1967) on Notebook – Mubi’s David Hudson collects a cross-section of critical reactions to Weekend in anticipation of the film’s 2011 re-release

DVD INFO: The 2012 Criterion Collection release (buy) is digitally restored and comes with the usual thick booklet of essays, interviews and supplemental materials. Unfortunately this edition does not include a commentary track (which would have been useful to point out Godard’s many literary and cinematic references), but there is an informative and opinionated 25-minute video essay by Kent Jones. Also featured are interviews with the film’s two stars, cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and assistant director Claude Miller; some behind the scenes footage of Godard on set shot by fellow director Phillipe Garrel; and a crisp copy of the original French trailer alongside a sadly faded American release trailer from 1968.

Weekend is also available on Blu-ray (buy) with the same features.

The 2005 New Yorker Video release (buy) is out-of-print but still available. Reported special features include a commentary track with film critic David Sterritt, reflections on the film from Mike Figgis, and an interview with Coutard (the same one that appears on the Criterion release?)

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard, who described it thusly: “Starts off normal enough, but eventually unfolds into weirdness and a keen sense of displaying societal ills, although somewhat metaphorically. Damn…that traffic jam!” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “130. WEEKEND (1967)”

  1. Now here you’ve got it right. This film is no doubt weird. Also unwatchably bad, except for the hilarious traffic jam sequence.

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