This shrewd film reaches beyond its genre confines in its thoughtful writing, elegiac direction and finely-tuned performances.
‘It’s beige,’ Meg Burrows (Lindsay Duncan, About Time) unhappily spits upon seeing the inside of a Parisian hotel room clearly not up to her standards, though her words could be referring to her view of her entire life to date. Her anniversary weekend getaway with her husband Nick (Jim Broadbent, Filth) should resound with the flourishes of three decades of romance; however, years of baggage cannot easily be unburdened. Their discord festers during their few days in France, though affection remains.
Roger Michell’s aptly-titled Le Week-End charts the course of Meg and Nick’s brief vacation, and the disappointments and discoveries contained within. She is cynical, yearning for adventure, and prone to fatalist statements; he is nervous and cautious, desperate for physical contact and ever-eager to please. A change of locale and pace brings with it an outpouring of closely-guarded truths, inner thoughts spilling as the duo traverse the city of love. Running into Nick’s former student, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum, Morning Glory), who has long since eclipsed his former mentor, only further throws their malaise into focus.
Amid a varied resume that spans rom-com, Notting Hill, thriller, Changing Lanes, and biographical drama, Hyde Park on Hudson, director Michell has pondered the intricacies of intimacy in Enduring Love and The Mother, and the vagaries of ageing in Venus. It is of considerable significance that Le Week-End reunites the filmmaker with the screenwriter of the latter two films, Hanif Kureishi, with their current collaboration a fitting combination of the themes of both. What remains unsaid in a marriage of thirty years furnishes their premise, as their latest feature shows a couple unable to avoid the fallout – both happy and not so – from the longevity of their pairing.
Even as the scenario smacks of the beauty of the bittersweet, its familiarity can’t be avoided; portraits of later-in-life marital disharmony have been done before. As it contemplates an existence forged in tandem but still comprised of individuals, the shrewd film reaches beyond its conversant confines in its smart and thoughtful writing, elegiac direction and finely-tuned performances. The exchanges between the central twosome, in one moment hurtful and lamenting, in another tender and hopeful, typify the perfect combination of all three. Kureishi affords the characters honesty, Michell offers them room to breathe, and Duncan and Broadbent ensure they show echoes of who they once were, years ago, that rages past the screen, misfortunes, failings and all.
Indeed, for all harsh realities and revelations, watching the leads spar as they circle through their picturesque setting proves a delight, with both actors at their perceptive best. The love showered on the Parisian backdrop by cinematographer Nathalie Durand (Late Bloomers) adds sheen to the opposing portrayals, as pitched against the charming, talkative Goldblum. A sense of levity emanates from a dynamic that is at once light-hearted but cognisant of its authenticity, the surrounding, always-observant film matching it without any over-reliance upon sadness or sentimentality. Spending time with Meg and Nick, and with Le Week-End, is as wise and wistful an experience as could ever be hoped; enjoying the accompanying humour and insight, and the throwbacks to the French New Wave dotted throughout, is a pleasant and rewarding surprise.
Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5
Director: Roger Michell
US, 2013, 93 mins
Release date: February 20