Paris – The City of Fight: The True Romance of “Le Week-End”

Le Week-End

Le Week-End (Roger Michell, 2013)

Love is a battlefield, especially in certain long-term relationships. A 60-something English couple, Nick and Meg – the one a college philosophy professor, the other a grade-school teacher – head to Paris (from Birmingham) for the weekend (“week-end,” in French, believe it or not) to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They have a comfortable, if occasionally antagonist, rapport, and very different ideas about what constitutes an ideal getaway. Their last trip to the “City of Light” had been for their honeymoon, and Nick has made reservations at the very same Montmartre hotel at which they had previously stayed. Unfortunately, it’s a bit rundown, and so Meg, disgusted, grabs the first taxi she can find and insists on an aimless ride through the streets of the French capital (“We’re in Paris,” she cries) until her eyes alight on the perfect stopping point: the Hotel Plaza Athénée. It’s expensive, but price is no obstacle (it turns out that price will matter, but the consequences only come later). Clearly, we have entered the story of Nick and Meg at a crisis point, and the joy (and extreme discomfort) of the film is in watching that crisis unfold, and in the great performances given by Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy, Cloud Atlas, and so much else), as Nick, and Lindsay Duncan (HBO’s “Rome” and a lot of British stage and TV), as Meg, as they invest their characters with humanity and complexity.

The director Roger Michell (PersuasionNotting Hill) and the writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid) have collaborated three times before: first on a 1993 British miniseries, The Buddha of Suburbia (based on Kureishi’s novel of the same name), and then on two films that both – like Le Week-End – analyzed the challenges of aging in remarkably frank ways, The Mother and Venus. I found their new film less interesting than The Mother (in which 60-something Anne Reid carries on an affair with her daughter’s hunky 30-something boyfriend, played by Daniel Craig), but far more accomplished than Venus (which I just found kind of gross with its crude sexual humor). Regardless of how one feels about any of their films, however, kudos to them – both just shy of 60 – for writing and directing films about a demographic that often does not get its fair share of screen time.

In Le Week-End, Michell and Kureishi explore the ups and downs, the comedies and the tragedies, the good and the bad, and the love and the hate that all co-exist in any intimate relationship between two people. In short, they explore the awesome beauty and pain of life, itself. If the film can seem at times reductive (a lot seems to happen – some of it coincidental – on this one particular weekend), it is nevertheless a masterpiece of behavioral study. When the marvelous Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and a gazillion other films which he elevated just by showing up) arrives in the second half to act as unwitting narcissistic foil to the roiling sadomasochistic co-dependency of Nick and Meg, his presence unleashes a final torrent of tragicomic existential mayhem (he also serves as the perfect set-up for the movie’s jokey French New Wave-inspired ending). You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll scream; you’ll definitely feel something. You’ll hate Meg at first, then find Nick a bore, and eventually come to realize that we’re all very much like them (up to point). It’s finely acted and scripted drama, and a welcome return to form for Michell after the disappointing Hyde Park on Hudson. I highly recommend.

As a side note, the cinematographer is Nathalie Durand, who also shot Avant que de tout perdre – which should have won the 2014 Oscar for Best Live Action Short (it lost out to the far inferior Helium) – and Blame It on Fidel. She does a lovely job photographing Paris by mostly natural light, and is definitely someone to watch.

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