I have a love/hate relationship with Jean-Luc Godard. Some of his films are undeniable masterpieces; others I find almost unwatchable. Sometimes, it feels as though he is more concerned with the craft of filmmaking rather than telling an engaging story. He is a person of big ideas, and often I feel as though I am playing catch-up with what he is trying to say. It also doesn’t help that his work has become more incomprehensible as his career has gone on. Weekend (1967) falls somewhere between what I love and hate about his method. With a new Blu-ray release from Criterion (spine #635), I had a chance to revisit the director that has given me profound moments of inspiration, while confounding me with elements perhaps only he can understand.
We meet married couple Corinne and Roland Durand (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) as they take a weekend trip to collect an inheritance from a dying relative. Even while married, they are not on the best of terms. In fact, they hate each other, and would have already killed one another if it weren’t for their inheritance. But what starts out as an easy trip to the countryside quickly delves into a surrealistic nightmare, as they encounter strange occurrences and even stranger people. From dead tourists on the road, an unending traffic jam, characters out of a Lewis Carroll novel, to a meeting with revolutionary terrorists, Godard makes his feelings on the bourgeois culture painfully obvious—as obvious as the burning cars littered throughout multiple scenes.
Godard’s message doesn’t just come through, it comes through with spite. His animosity toward the bourgeois only grows the further he moves along. What starts off as dark comedy becomes less funny, and then finally shocking toward the closing passages. This reflection of society was relevant for Godard, and taken within a historical context I can see why it’s seen as an important work. But he buries his ideas under an approach that tests our patience as an audience. Scenes that drag on endlessly, political narration that interrupts the narrative flow and then quickly disappears, and seemingly arbitrary introductions of unrelated characters had me thinking less about what he was saying, and more about how incoherent the style was. I believe this works better as something to be analyzed and discussed, rather than felt as an engaging filmgoing experience.
The audio track has been remastered at 24-bit from the original monaural soundtrack (from a 35mm print). I didn’t notice much hissing or distortion, and much of the random sounds effects/voiceover come through nice and crisp. You’ll notice the quality, as the sound cuts in and out quite often.
I can’t deny that the digital transfer is very well done. Raoul Coutard’s colorful, pop-art cinematography jumps off the screen—from the look of character’s wardrobes to the rich greens and yellows of the countryside. Perhaps most striking are the aesthetics of the burning cars. When Corinne and Roland walk amongst the destroyed vehicles, with the bright red flames billowing smoke into the air, there is a haunting, dreamlike effect.
Criterion has always been known to provide the best in supplemental material, and for this release it plays as a crucial component.
The video essay by writer/filmmaker Kent Jones is the best feature on the disk. Jones goes in depth here, explaining various perspectives and reasons why Godard included certain elements, even though they seemed completely arbitrary. He lays a groundwork for us to understand Godard’s views of French society, and as result is an invaluable tool in sifting through the dense themes.
Archival interviews with Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne are included, as well as more recent ones with Coutard and assistant director Claude Miller. It’s always interesting to see the process of filmmaking from various points of view, and while Darc’s and Yanne’s interviews are fairly short, they give us a glimpse into their interpretations of the story. Even better is the inclusion of an excerpt from a French television program, with on-set footage that shows the process as it is put into real life work.
In the booklet, there are three pieces: as essay from critic Gary Indiana, selections from the book Godard au travail: Les annees 60 by Alain Bergala, and finally a piece from a 1969 interview from Godard. While each is full of information and detail, the interview with Godard is what drew me the most. Since we do not get a video interview with the director, the fact that we get his own words in writing is important in helping us see his mindset when he made the film.
The great bonus features on the disk and in the booklet are the saving grace for this release. Without them, I don’t believe I would have been able to recommend Weekend on its own. Godard made it heavy with literary and historical references, and used a difficult style that challenges you to stick with it. Luckily—and if one desires to—we are given the tools to attempt just that.
Overall Release Grade: B