Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Valerie Lagrange
Written by: Jean-Luc Godard
Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 12/29/1967

Weekend (1967)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Sunday Drivers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Before Jean-Luc Godard was anything else, he was a movie buff. His first films took on the movies themselves, most often tackling the crime genre with pictures such as Breathless, Band of Outsiders, and Pierrot le Fou. He tossed a long dance number into Band of Outsiders and combined the detective film with the sci-fi film in Alphaville. With Contempt, he looked at the behind-the-scenes of a film as Fritz Lang directed The Odyssey.

So it's really saying something that Godard left movie-ness (for the most part) behind him with Weekend, perhaps the most ambitious film in his long career. Weekend is best known for its long tracking shot of an endlessly fascinating traffic pileup. Bored drivers play catch or play chess; their cars pulled over to the side of the road, other drivers blow a cacophonous symphony of horns, while many cars lay overturned and aflame. And that much comes relatively early in Weekend, after a bizarre opening scene showing young couples discussing their affairs with other members of the opposite sex.

The plot, such as it is, involves Roland (Jean Yanne) and Corrine (Mireille Darc) as they hit the road to visit her parents for a weekend. After an accident, they wander around endlessly, meeting all kinds of oddballs. ("What a rotten film," Roland complains, "all we meet is crazy people.") When they arrive, they find that Corrine's father has died, and because they weren't there, they won't get any inheritance. So Roland kills Corrine's mother. They hit the road again newly rich, only to be kidnapped by radical terrorist cannibals living in the woods.

Meanwhile, Godard gives us plenty of scenes of burning, overturned cars, long political rants, and the occasional airplane noise permeating the soundtrack. He tries to throw us off when Roland and Corrine meet a pair of garbage men, one black, one Arab. Godard photographs one head-on, while the other rants off screen, then vice-versa. Roland and Corrine's attention drifts off and they squabble silently over a cigarette. And, indeed, it's difficult to pay attention when we're not looking at the speaker and have to read subtitles.

During another scene, Roland and Corrine hitch a ride with a pianist, who sets up near a farmhouse and plays while talking about his theories on popular music. Godard sweeps his camera back and forth over a few dozen yards or so of farmland, capturing the pianist, Roland and Corrine, a group of bored farmers, and occasionally, an empty landscape.

There's plenty more, each new scene bringing some new idea, and I haven't room to discuss them all. Overall, though, Godard seems to be raging about the bourgeoisie and the political climate of the 1960s in general. However, he also doesn't want us to forget that we're watching a movie. In another scene, while soliciting for rides, Roland asks a driver if he's in a film or in real life. When the driver replies that he's in a film, Roland blows him off. And the Liberation Front that kidnaps our heroes uses movie titles as code names in their radio transmissions: The Searchers, Battleship Potemkin, and Johnny Guitar, all Godard favorites from his movie critic days.

What sets Godard apart is his commitment to the cinema. To him, film is a conversation between filmmaker and audience member. No matter how many outbursts or ideas or film references he plugs into his films, he knows how to make it all flow. He knows when to cut and when not to use close-ups. He knows how long a shot should last, and where to look in order to make it seem more powerful or awkward. (The recent Signs & Wonders was similarly packed with ideas, but they quickly became jumbled and annoying.)

Finally, Weekend has a faint smile about it, as if Godard were watching from behind the camera and laughing at his own hijinks. And that's what makes it a masterpiece.

New Yorker Home Video released Weekend on DVD in 2005. Extras include an audio commentary by film critic David Sterritt (The Christian Science Monitor), an interview with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, and a short featurette in which filmmaker Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) talks about the film.

In 2012, the Criterion Collection gave the movie its Blu-ray treatment, in addition to a new DVD. Picture quality on the Blu-ray is film-like, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Sadly, it appears that none of the extras from the New Yorker DVD made the cut. Critic Kent Jones provides a video essay, there are interviews, and an excerpt from a French television program on director Jean-Luc Godard, featuring on-set footage, plus trailers. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Gary Indiana, and a 1969 interview with Godard.

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