Monday, August 20, 2012

#635: Weekend

(Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

Weekend is the capstone on Godard's first mini-career as a director, and the last masterpiece of his New Wave era. Following Weekend, Godard's films no longer had the same giddy sheen that radiated from his work (Truffaut had it, too, though he never really gave it up). Part of what grabbed people about the New Wave (and the concurrent British Invasion) was the sense of love and discovery shared by artist and fan alike. You'd have to be almost impossibly oblivious not to see the playful joy in Godard's early films - okay, maybe not Contempt, but it's everywhere in Breathless, Vivre Sa Vie, A Band of Outsiders, and certainly A Woman Is a Woman. Even Pierrot le fou, made a few years before Weekend and clearly pointing the way towards the heavy political slant of Godard's next decade (and arguably the rest of his career), is deeply infused with this love for cinema, and it comes off like a sly inside joke with the audience, forgiving Godard all his greater eccentricities. (This is, by the way, why I find some of his later work insufferable.)

Weekend is one of the purest manifestations of this love. It's most obvious in moments where the wall is completely broken, like when one of Godard's characters says "What a rotten film, all we meet are crazy people," but it's still evident throughout the movie in more subtle (or at least seamless) ways. The best example of this latter circumstance is the famous tracking shot that follows the central couple skirting around an epic traffic jam. The scene plays out like a Where's Waldo cartoon - with little mini joke/scenes along the way - punctuated by a ludicrously over-the-top gory accident at the end. It's the accidents that make Weekend such a bitingly funny movie, and they reminded me immediately of Cronenberg's Crash, a car-crash movie that utilizes the symbolism of this everyday disaster in quite a different - but equally effective - way.

There are certainly the same frustrations in Weekend that there are in any Godard movie when approaching the film from a mainstream perspective. But I would probably pull Weekend out of Godard's catalog to show to a newcomer who wanted to know what the director was all about. A Woman is a Woman is probably more accessible, and Contempt more conventional (though that still sounds weird even writing it), but Weekend clearly and amusingly gets to the heart of so many of Godard's themes and hints at his more complex experiments with form and style without the historical weight of Breathless. I certainly have a love/hate relationship with his work, but the power of his best films is undeniable, and Weekend belongs in that rarefied air.

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