by Sherry Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Weekend (1967) – The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.
Legendary French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was nothing if not polarizing. Many of his films are known for their commentary on society. His 1967 film Weekend, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, is one such film. Weekend is a satire mocking middle-class life. Godard explores surrealism to get his point across. The lack of cohesive storytelling really makes this film challenging to watch. The commentary is so heavy-handed in its indictment of the bourgeois that the satire seems more mean-spirited than funny. Weekend offers up some interesting sequences and some genuine humor in the beginning, but crumbles under the weight of its own absurdity by the end.
The film centers on Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne) Durand, a middle-class married couple. The Durands hate each other, with both planning to kill the other after a large sum of money is inherited from Corinne’s father. The setup for this storyline is genuinely funny as Corinne and Roland recite their murderous plans to their respective lovers. They’re both shallow and materialistic, with no regard for anyone but themselves. Corinne rejoices in the fantasy that her parents will be killed in a car crash. At one point, when she witnesses an automobile accident, she says she wishes it were her parents who had been the victims. Both Corinne and Roland are dissatisfied with their comfortable lives, but neither offers any thoughts as to why, except their hatred for each other.
Corinne is shown to be a little more open-minded than her husband. Early on in the film she recounts a sexual encounter between herself and another couple. She’s unsure whether the encounter was in her mind or real. Her sexual openness foreshadows her place in society by the end of the film. It’s probably one of the most interesting and coherent aspects of the film. Corinne and her husband decide they can’t wait to receive their inheritance and decide to take a road trip to collect directly from her parents. They hope her ailing father will have died before they get there, but if not, they plan to finish the job themselves. Their journey is impeded by a series of car accidents which they pass along the way.
The car accidents are ever-increasing in their gruesomeness, with the bloody and broken bodies of men, women, and children strewn about the road. The couple passes by the accidents with hardly a glance. Their only concern is the money they expect to receive. However, the myriad of accidents hinders their progress to the point where they must take notice. They’re thrown wildly off course and, as they try to find their way, they begin to have odd encounters. The people they interact with are characters from literature and historical figures. One of the most bizarre encounters is when they meet up with author Emily Bronte and the character Thom Thumb. The Durands lose their patience (to put it mildly) as Bronte ponders the meaning of life.
Godard’s film suggests that a middle-class lifestyle results in apathy and downright shallowness. He seems to believe the desire for money wipes out compassion and common decency. Corinne steals the designer jeans off a corpse she finds along the side of the road. Roland steals a car for no other reason than his own feelings of entitlement. Over the course of the film the satire fades as a revolutionary group of hippies take the couple hostage. The hippies are brutal and savage. They ignore taboos; even cannibalism is not too far out there for them. The film seems to suggest that this type of radicalism is the antidote for the bourgeois apathy. In order to accept this idea, it has to be accepted that the bourgeois are bad. That money breeds callousness, and that consumerism is the downfall of society. If these things aren’t accepted, this film feels like a slap in the face to the average, workaday person.
Weekend is not an easy film to watch. As I mentioned earlier, it presents some interesting concepts and some unique imagery. However, I found its message to be muddled and too radical. The allegory was not easy to follow at all times. Honestly, I wasn’t sure who or what was supposed to be represented during each encounter. Trying to figure it all out feels like a homework assignment. In the end, even films that present some kind of message need to entertain and I think this film ultimately failed on that level. I would have a hard time recommending this film to anyone that isn’t a fan of Godard’s work.
The Criterion Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p, AVC MPEG-4 transfer with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. I enjoyed the impressive visual presentation. The colors are vivid, especially for a 1967 film. The orange flames from the many car accidents burned bright and bold. There is a grain visible, but is likely an accurate representation of the cinematography by Raoul Coutard. I did notice a soft smudge along the edge in some of the brighter scenes, particularly if a skyline was shown, but it was only a minor distraction. Overall the picture was good. The sound is presented as a lossless 1.0 mono mix. The soundtrack is sparse, offering very little in the way of background noise and other ambience. However, the clarity was strong, the French-speaking voices easy to hear.
Criterion has put together a decent set of supplements for this set. The booklet included with the Blu-ray contains an essay by film critic and novelist Gary Indiana. The booklet also contains selections from Alain Bergala’s book Godard au travail: Les années, 60, and an excerpt from a 1969 interview. The disc includes the nearly 30-minute documentary “Revolutions Per Second.” The documentary features an analysis of the film from filmmaker Kent Jones. Jones also provides historical context for the film and an overview of Godard’s career at that point. Also included with the set are interviews with the two lead actors, the cinematographer, and the assistant director. The actor interviews are short, lasting only a few minutes, but the crew interviews total about 45 minutes. There is an eight-minute “On Location” featurette, which shows Godard in action. Lastly, the French and U.S. theatrical trailers are included.