Alan Redpath appraises Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 classic New Wave film Le Weekend
To obtain a reasonable grasp of French culture, it is necessary to study the anatomy of its art. The paintings and sculptures of the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay will always be at its heart, but France’s respiratory system, where it lives and breathes, is found in its film industry. As an immigrant, this won’t be found in subtitled versions of western movies at the local town cinema, but only by an immersion in its origins. The Nouvelle Vague is the only place to begin, and no understanding of French art will ever be complete without a guided investigation of its influence on French cinema. To that end, I will endeavor to sprinkle the path of understanding with the most edified and notable films that helped established the now matured movie industry in France.
The Nouvelle Vague was a Parisian tsunami that swept across every region of France in the late 1950’s. It was a movement spearheaded by a handful of critics from Cahiers du cinema, an early film magazine. They were Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, whose bold writings equalled their films. They were hungry for an experimental, energetic and political cinema, which was in direct opposition to the old guard, the directors who they felt were dinosaurs of drama. At a time when ubiquitous period films were the only familiar diet, the antediluvian auteurs were washed way, and a magnolia movie industry was suddenly replaced and abundant with colour. The unequivocal father of the movement was Eric Rohmer, but the ravenous and petulant child of the movement was undeniably Jean-luc Godard, and it is with Godard’s most notorious film, Le Weekend, that I will begin our journey.
Corinne and Roland, a wealthy couple played by Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne, take a drive to collect a large inheritance from a relative whose impending death has been anticipated for far too long. Upon leaving their bourgeois abode in the city, they roam through a countryside ravaged by a proletariat with no other agenda than anarchy. Weird would be the first word that comes to mind in an attempt to describe Godard’s film, but then he never intended this to be a tangible tale. Like Heisenberg’s principle, the ability of any director to create reality is hampered by the act of film making itself. With full knowledge of this, Godard hasn’t attempted to create realism, instead he has created the opposite, an unsullied reflection of it. Godard takes us on a drive, and our car is a deliberate choice. The car was the impetus for the creation of the assembly line by Henry Ford during the 50’s and 60’s, the definitive capitalist accessory, and Godard’s symbol of decadent consumerism.
Whilst on the road, Corinne and Roland are relentlessly ambushed by Godard’s Marxist hoodlums, and the combat ensues between their conformist exhibition of patriarchal bourgeoisie and the deleterious dissidents who attack them. It is the ultimate car movie, if you don’t mind driving through the oncoming traffic of a one way street. Godard constantly keeps the viewer in a state of decryption, as though being handed a rubix cube for the first time. Enigmatic captions flash from hidden meanings, revolutionaries spout manifestos dubbed with rehabilitated voices, poets on drum kits nestle in forests, pianists in farmyards, live animal slaughter, cannibalism and extreme traffic jams.
The characters seem to get into the back seat of the car at times. A prime example is a segment of third wall smashing when Roland, our protagonist, suddenly complains about the madness of the movie he is in. The political anarchism against capitalist society seems to continuously point the observer towards the end of a road that never comes. However, instead of revelation, we are imprisoned in a perpetual climax of anarchistic brutality.
Besides the film being a political statement about the necessary violence of anarchism to devour the putrid flesh of bourgeois capitalism, Its raison d’être points at the futility of rebellion, highlighted by the insurgents struggle without reason or ideology. This seems to be of greater poignancy and an important comment on the political world today. Revolutions continue to erupt across the globe, and Le Weekend is Godard’s message to them all. When the revolts succeed the revolutionary becomes the bourgeoisie enemy for the next generation, in perpetua. Godard’s films, A bout de souffle, Bande à part, and Alphaville are captivating to this day, but nothing feels more essentially Godardian than Le Weekend. I would highly recommend this film as an introduction to Jean-Luc Godard’s work, the rewards from gaining an understanding of his symbolism and metaphorical depth are sincerely worth the labour.