An idiosyncratic gem from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival gets unearthed this week here in the Nati. From writer Hanif Kureishi & director Roger Michell (the filmmaking duo behind The Mother & Venus) Le Week-End felt like a fully realized backstory for a pair of characters edited out of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan), a British couple in crisis, jumps at the chance to return to Paris for a second honeymoon in order to save their marriage, but it becomes obvious that several tightly packed strata of complications and hurt form a foundation that a mere weekend’s worth of possible pleasure could never pierce. As a married critic, I often find it unavoidable, this sense of slipping into the situations playing onscreen, replaying the scenes and taking on the baggage of the of those avatars up there. It matter little, so it seems, whether the dramatized conflict recalls a concern in my own relationship. I project myself into that space, and my wife as well (an unwitting participant who rarely joins me for screenings – she has no idea what I subject her to, which, I suppose is a good thing in this case), carrying that burden a ways for the characters.
And so, I appreciate Nick’s predicament. An academic, pushed out of his job, yet keeping the situation and its specifics from his wife. He imagined such a different life for himself. The dream of writing, adoring students, the freedom and respect that comes as a result of a certain adoration; instead he has the mundane grind, the thwarted dreams, the lesser life, which is now on the tail end with uncertainty looming. While Meg has memories of disappointments and choices, roads not taken, and scorn, real scorn squeezing the precious love she once felt for Nick.
Every action and exchange between Nick and Meg bears all of this weight. It is a wonder they can move. And the truth is they can’t, they haven’t been able to advance together for years. So, they retreat, back past the point where things went wrong – it is easier to stumble backward into the yawning abyss, even without trusting that the other will be there to catch them before they strike the bottom – back to the beginning. Listen carefully though and it is plain that their memories of that time aren’t synchronized.
Of course right on cue, the trip down memory lane drudges up figures from the past. Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a classmate of Nick’s and fellow writer, albeit far more commercially successful, happens to cross their path and invites them to join him for a gliterati gathering at his home with his new trophy wife and his son stowed away from view. These complications seem suited to another story, one focusing on a completely different couple, maybe younger versions of Nick and Meg. We would like to imagine that a union like Nick and Meg’s would have already traversed this wasteland and either dissolved or emerged stronger as a result.
But watch carefully, the exasperation in Broadbent. It permeates every pore of his being, and yet, he still contains a spry hopefulness. It might be frazzled and limping along, but it is there, as it is in seemingly every Broadbent performance. This lightness in him is magic and undeniably real (even honest and always human). All of these qualities make the association I have for him and Nick worth the emotionally painful consideration I take on as part of embracing this story. Despite being far less majestic than say Morgan Freeman, I would argue that I understand humanity more thanks to his work.
The typically well-oiled snake charmer Goldblum defines a specific type now, iconically representing a mythic trickster moreso than actually exerting effort towards portraying a given role. I imagine him as a modern-day Loki, exiled from Asgard, living among us, aging at a decidedly slower rate befitting his status. Goldblum teases us with language and gesture, lying at every turn, but also telling us a larger truth that we can’t quite grasp about ourselves. I used to want to see him more in films or on television, but his brand of chicanery wouldn’t survive such constant scrutiny. The truth of it would be lost, leaving us with nothing more than the deception and we would rebel or, worse still, ignore it.
Le Week-End is all we have, and possibly all we need. (tt stern-enzi)