Le Week-end was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year but this doesn't mean it's necessarily one of the best: audiences responded unevenly and the film flopped at the box-office with a paltry 2 million gross (a low number for a reasonably high profile production featuring Oscar loved actors and filmmakers). The film reunites director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Hyde Park on the Hudson) with his Venus collaborator, screenwriter Hanif Kureishi. This modern Paris outing follows a couple, Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) throughout their return journey in Paris as they attempt to re-find a connection between themselves after a slowly dwindling marriage.
The film's central idea is to function as a character exploration of Meg and Nick. This couple was married for a great deal of time and first honeymooned in Paris. In Le Week-end, they decide to revisit the country and famous city so that they can try to find some common ground to re-find some of that magic they once had. Unfortunately, things don't go so easy for them. Both are in bitter, unhappy, and aloof moods as they enter Paris, find a hotel, and begin their quest. As the story unfolds, the viewer will get to know more about these characters and their quirks. Some coldness seems to seep out of every frame with these characters finding most moments in the sourest of states. Only in a few short reprieves does one see that these characters even have a inkling of affection for one another. One might wonder why the characters are even trying to save their relationship as they both have so many issues with one another. Yet the optimistic ideal of romance may linger in moviegoers even as the characters and screenplay differ from veering down that directional.
During the film the couple bickers and disagrees over numerous things. They argue over their son, whom they have seemingly written out of their lives, the couple argues about their jobs (sometimes the lack thereof as Nick reveals his leave from school teaching due to a racist comment against a student), their lack of romantic connection in other areas - Meg seems generally uninterested in Nick romantically and even though Nick claims to only have his eyesight on Meg he seems to drift elsewhere throughout the film.
Nick makes rude remarks towards Meg at various points in the film. Meg talks Nick town, too. In one scene of the film, Nick's fallen down on the ground and injured himself. Meg laughs and tells him to get up and enthuses that he must 'act like a man'. Meg is suggested as having had an affair at one point in this story, and while the script seems to suggest it might not have happened, her character suggests she wished she had been with other men and hadn't stayed with Nick with bitterness that shows a relationship clearly on its last legs.
Nick, meanwhile, becomes less sympathetic throughout the course of the film and one gets the feeling he's someone who was having many affairs with others during his more youthful years. As the story progresses, Nick and Meg meet their friend Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), who invites them to a dinner party he is hosting for the success of his new book. There, Meg tries to start a one-night relationship with a different man and says so directly to Nick.
Nick, meanwhile, talks to the disenchanted son of Morgan, who he learns left his wife and his family hopping away one night from America and leaving for France. No one knew where he went. Morgan became engaged to a new person, a woman who clearly adores him but for whom his remarks and attitude suggest a lack of caring for her even as she is pregnant with a new child. Morgan's wife attempted suicide, and the family was in shambles. He lets his children sometimes visit but he doesn't like to spend time with them when they do.
By the end of the film, Nick and Meg will dance to the famous dance from Godard's masterpiece Band of Outsiders in an unearned moment of false optimism that suggests 'things will work out' despite the cold and unpleasant aura surrounding this entire film. It leaves one feeling like this was simply an unpleasant exercise in character exploration with fine performances but like the filmmakers had no idea where to even end their unpleasantly cynical excursion. Audiences are unlikely to respond to this clinically cold character study and it's no surprise: the unpleasantly distant film is one that has fine performances going for it and little else.
One might expect that given the film's location in Paris one would at least see some amazing photograph y of the locations featured in the film. Much to my surprise, neither the director Michell or cinematographer Nathalie Durand managed to do so for much of this film. The majority of the story takes place inside the hotel and at the dinner party sequence. Those sequences are primarily poorly lit and lacking in anything remotely colorful: perhaps as symbolically enmeshed symbolism for the bleak reality of these relationships. Yet the occasionally playful outdoor scenes are also underwhelming. At one point early in the filmmaking excursion, Michell manages shaky-cam annoyance with poor shots of the transportation: the vehicles get highlighted from the outside shots while the scenery is ridiculously sidelined. This seemed to be the course for the rest of the film and is a bit underwhelming to say the least (especially for a film set in a city as beautiful as Paris).
The music score by Jeremy Sams is one of the more surprising things about this film. The jazz infused and upbeat score is quite disarmingly charming in parts and seems to almost be at the opposite end of the spectrum with what the script and direction create. It's a fun and melodic musical score that doesn't exactly fit the film's mood, but it seems to work effectively under everything else.
One thing that really annoys about Le Week-end was also the way it repeatedly referenced Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders. At an easy glance, there are at least three moments in the film where the film is referenced and while it seems to be glowing a homage sensibility to Godard's offbeat classic, the rebellious style of filmmaking of that French New Wave masterpiece is so radically different. The magic of the dance from that film is also completely gone. While that effort felt original, jazzy, and inventive this film's references and style almost seem to be the opposite: instead, Le Week-end reflects the comfort of Hollywood filmmaking conventions. Everything about this film is a far cry from the film experimentation of New Wave cinema.
Ultimately, while this film is far from a disaster in terms of its style and craft (and it is a film blessed with great actors delivering exceptional performances), the average at best direction combined with the sour and unpleasant cynicism from writer Hanif Kureishi makes this one character-study that is difficult to recommend. Le Week-end didn't connect to me with the storytelling or characters and that is where it falls short the most and where I expect it to be underwhelming and disappointing for most audiences.
Le Week-end has been presented with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image. The film has an unusual cinematography style which is generally well rendered on this release. The transfer retains good detail in many shots, offers a clean and modern look, but is a bit dull in color, incapable of presenting background details with as much finesse, and is generally a little lackluster at times. Still, most of this seems to be attributable to the style, and not to the presentation of the film on Blu-ray. This mostly strong presentation does a modest job maintaining the intended aesthetic look of Le Week-end and should please most fans.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is one that I personally found to be a bit lacking. The music soundstage is the only area in which there was a lot of noticeable emphasis on the surrounds. For this aspect, Le Week-end sounds just as well as what many would expect, but unfortunately nothing much was done creatively to audibly swell-up the enveloping aspect of France and that's something that seems a bit shortsighted for something set in the Paris locale. Dialogue is still easily distinguishable and the film has benefited from the lossless audio mix despite its average sound design.
This release contains a number of bonus features (all video extras being presented in 1080p HD): feature film commentary by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader, A Weekend in Paris: Making Le Week-end (16 min.) is a look at the creation of the film and it features some interviews with the creative team behind the film, including: director Michell, writer Hanif Kureishi, actors Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum.
Also included on this release is a short tutorial entitled "How to do 'The Madison'" dance tutorial (3 min.), a supplement which focuses on the dance routine done in both Le Week-end and Jean Luc Godard's classic Band of Outsiders. Illustrations by Jane Webster are provided in a stills-based platform. Lastly, the original theatrical trailer for Le Week-end has been provided.
Despite a cheerful marketing campaign promoting this film as a romantic comedy set in Paris, Le Week-end is actually one of the most cynical and least enjoyable films I have seen all year. The performances given by leads Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum are simply great -- the acting is uniformly excellent -- but it's not exactly fun spending time with this eccentric group of negative characters. The average directing by Michell doesn't help this filmmaking excursion to be any better.
For fans of the film, this Blu-ray release offers decent picture and audio quality along with a reasonably good selection of supplements to make it worth a purchase. For everyone else? A rental (at best) will suffice. I suggest skipping Le Week-end altogether.