Jean-Luc Godard is one of my favorite directors. I listed Breathless as my 13th-favorite movie a few years ago, and Vivre sa vie isn’t far behind. Masculine-Feminine is another fave, with its children of Marx and Coca-Cola. Pierrot le fou, even Alphaville and Contempt ... I’m a fan. Close readers will notice, though, that my affection reaches only to 1967, even though Godard continues to make movies to this day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of his post-Weekend films. This is something I should work on. I can’t say I’ve seen his best when I’m missing so much of the story. But it does seem like Godard has had the career of a rock star: a decade of brilliance, and then a long, show fade.
Weekend is the culmination of the part of Godard’s work with which I am familiar, and it’s no accident that the line is drawn ... Weekend famously ends with the title card “FIN DE CINÉMA”. There is a sense, upon coming to the end of the movie, that anything else would be superfluous. Godard brings a kitchen-sink approach to the film, not just in style but in ideas. It overflows with the latter, as is often the case in his movies. The cast listing on the IMDB includes Karl Marx (as “Himself”), and among the other characters are Saint-Just and Emily Bronte. While most of the movie is devoted to a representation of the inevitable corruption of capitalist consumerism, about an hour in, we get two long diatribes about colonialism while we watch men eating sandwiches. The film basically stops for these lessons.
Weekend is infuriating, and you might think it doesn’t matter that Godard intends to infuriate. His command of the medium is immense, yet he seems intent on using that mastery solely to break our concentration, to frustrate us, daring us to not like his film. The early traffic jam is justly famous. It’s also a very long tracking shot that seems to go nowhere. (One reviewer, who hated the film, called the traffic jam “one of the most obnoxious sequences that I’ve ever seen anywhere.”) The scene is the first level of the hell the film will present. Over the course of the film, we will see people resorting to gunplay whenever they are thwarted in their attempt to get more money, more stuff. Long past the time when the traffic jam has been left behind, the landscape is littered with broken, abandoned automobiles, the detritus of the old society of the consumer. The two primary characters lose their car in an accident ... they are lucky to be alive, but the woman can’t quit crying over her lost handbag. Eventually, one of them will be eaten by cannibalistic hippie revolutionaries.
The soundtrack is equally maddening. The volume level rises and falls seemingly at random, and while snippets of music are reminiscent of the movie music of our past, there is a disconnect between the memories the music recalls and what we see on the screen. Romantic music during a shootout, ominous music during a therapy session ... if cinema is ending, then so is our ability to connect life with the music of that cinema.
Weekend is brilliant and unlikable. There are worse things than “unlikable”, even if it means I rank Weekend a bit below Breathless and Vivre sa vie. The first time I saw Breathless, I immediately sat through it a second time. Weekend is so full of ideas, it, too, warrants multiple viewings. But I can’t imagine sitting through it twice in a row, or even twice in a year. #321 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.