Weekend – The Criterion Collection #635 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 14, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Audacious, polemic and unique…”Weekend” is a film that represents the end of Jean-Luc Godard’s involvement with the French New Wave, especially with “bourgeois” narrative filmmaking. A film that is unlike any other nor is it an easy film that can be easily explained, “Weekend” must be watched and experienced! A film that I highly recommend for the cineaste who enjoy complexity and cerebral films, not for the casual viewer expecting simplicity. Recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1967 Gaumont -Ascot Cineraid. The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Weekend – The Criterion Collection #635 (a.k.a. Le Weekend)
YEAR OF FILM: 1967
DURATION: 104 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 Aspect Ratio), Monaural in French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: November 13, 2012
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard
Music by Antoine Duhamel
Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
Edited by Agens Guillemot
Mireille Darc as Corinne Durand
Jean Yanne as Roland Durand
Jean-Pierre Kalfon as Le Chef du Front de Liberation de la Seine et Pise
This scathing late-sixties satire from Jean-Luc Godard is one of cinema’s great anarchic works. Determined to collect an inheritance from a dying relative, a bourgeois couple travel across the French countryside while civilization crashes and burns around them. Featuring a justly famous sequence in which the camera tracks along a seemingly endless traffic jam, and rich with historical and literary references, Weekend is a surreally funny and disturbing call for revolution, a depiction of society reverting to savagery, and— according to the credits—the end of cinema itself.
Jean-Luc Godard, one of the primary faces of starting “La Nouvelle Vague” (French New Wave) and one of the outspoken film critics of “Cahiers du Cinema”… it would be an understatement to use the word “complex” to describe Godard.
From his collaboration with Francois Truffaut for “A bout de souffle” (Breathless) in 1960, his disenchantment of his work becoming so popular would lead to him creating “Le Petit Soldat” (The Little Soldier) which would be about France’s involvement during the Algerian War, a film with a political message of the denunciation torture used by France and the Algerians and eventually earning Godard criticism from the government and the film being banned for three years.
And while Godard would continue to create films that were smart, witty, intelligent and captivating, you can see how much more critical Godard would be towards society, government and his ideology would begin to creep into his films towards the mid-’60s.
With “Made in U.S.A.” becoming his most political film yet, the film was the final swan song between both Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, who created films that many loved. Despite being divorced at this time, she would no longer be his muse and the director would no longer be the director that many people have respected him and loved him for.
His next films “La Chinoise” and “Week End” would truly mark the end of Godard’s narrative and cinematic period of his filmmaking career and from then on, Godard would be a different director focusing on revolutions and his interest in Maoist ideology and would only return to mainstream films in 1980.
While “Made in U.S.A.” was the swan song between he and Karina and featuring the actress killing a man which is said to be a symbolization of Godard and his approach to cinema, in 1967, “La Chinoise” would no longer want to create films for the sake of entertaining the masses, he wanted to focus on films that related to his Maoist ideology and his film about five Parisian revolutionaries who tried to conspire to overthrow the Russian imperial regime through sustained violence, was regarded not negatively but earned the respect and approval of major critics worldwide. But the film would also be a signal that he was growing tired of “bourgeois” narrative filmmaking.
And later that year, Jean-Luc Godard would go on to create the film “Weekend”. A film which would feature another collaboration between the filmmaker and cinematographer Raoul Coutard and a film which Godard has called the film “Closer to a cry” than to a movie. It’s because his feelings of France was at his lowest point. Known for being one of the primary faces of French New Wave, the filmmaker wanted to disassociate anything that he had to do with France and through “Weekend”, it was his way to destroy France. To destroy his world as he knew it through cinema (and suffice to say, destroying his relationships with his fellow filmmakers in France as well).
And so, after “Weekend”, he would then join Dziga Vertov and create political films from 1968 through 1972.
But when it comes to Godard films and everyone wanting to know when was the end of his French New Wave films, one would have to watch “Weekend”. For many years, cinema fans have wondered if there would be a DVD release in North America for Godard’s film and fortunately,The Criterion Collection would be releasing the film on Blu-ray and DVD in November 2012.
As for “Weekend”, the film itself, I don’t know if anyone can truly summarize Godard’s film with efficacy. In fact, you can read a variety of reviews from film critics at the time and many will give the film some type of explanation or stray away from even trying to explain what the movie is all about.
But in my attempt to summarize the film, I call it a film of fragments. Each fragment with a political message.
“Weekend” focuses on a bourgeois French couple, Roland (portrayed by Jean Yanne, “Le boucher”, “Indochine”) and Corinne (portrayed by Mireille Darc, “Galia”, “Le Grand Blond”). Both love each other, both are having affairs and both are planning each other’s murder. The two discuss visiting Corinne’s parents home out in the country in order to get an inheritance, and even kill him if they have to.
But the drive to the countryside is filled with chaos, traffic jams, car accidents galore and as the two lose their car in an accident, as they wander through France, they encounter people discussing issues of different classes and figures from France’s history. What will these two discover in this frightening and chaotic world?
“Weekend” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio). Despite having a large collection of Godard films, I’ve never owned the VHS or DVD release of “Weekend” but according to friends who do, they told me that this Blu-ray release is way better than its DVD counterpart. With that being said, during my viewing, the outdoor scenes look very good, especially during Coutard’s long tracking shots. It looks as if the Criterion Collection did an outstanding job with the overall cleaning up of the film because not one white speckle/dust can be seen. Nor did I see any artifacts or any problems when it comes to video. Colors are consistent and skin tones look natural. Considering the film’s age, I can easily say that “Weekend” looks fantastic on Blu-ray!
According to the Criterion Collection, the new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the original 35 mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Visions’ Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Weekend – The Criterion Collection #635” is presented French monaural. I haven’t owned previous releases of “Weekend” to do any comparisons but I can say that the monaural LPCM 1.0 soundtrack is clear and I detected no hissing during the actual film. Evn Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K. 576 by Paul Gegauff sounds crisp and crystal clear.
According to the Criterion Collection, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“Weekend – The Criterion Collection #635” comes with the following special features:
- Revolutions Per Second – (24:32) A fantastic video essay by writer/filmmaker Kent Jones. For those confused by the film, definitely watch this video essay!
- Interviews – Featuring three archival interviews with cinematographer Raoul Coutard (18:48), classic interview with actor Mireillle Darc and Jean Yanne (3:21) and with assistant director Claude Miller (24:36). In French, with English subtitles.
- On Location – (8:15) Featuring an excerpt of “Seize millions de jeunes” from October 1967 with an interview by documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Barjol.
- Trailers – Featuring the 1967 original French theatrical trailer of “Weekend” (2:53) and the U.S. 1968 theatrical trailer (2:51).
“Weekend – The Criterion Collection #635” comes with a 42-page booklet with the following essays: “The Last Weekend” by Gary Indiana, “Notes on Weekend” by Alain Bergala, “Theoretical Guns: An Interview with Godard, 1969” by Jonathan Cott.
In 1967, Jean-Luc Godard officially ended “bourgeois” narrative filmmaking.
A man that was now dedicated in being the voice of the students, the workers, the voice of to rebel against the government, the world and even his fellow filmmakers.
While Godard had hints of rebelliousness through his previous films, the tension felt in France in 1967 and Godard’s work would be the predecessor of the May 1968 protests in France. The largest strike which literally brought the economy of any advanced industrial country to a standstill. For two weeks, 22% of the working force of France went on strike for two weeks, students were involved in violent clashes with the police and university administrators.
Suffice to say that French communists and socialists wanted President Charles de Gaulle to be replaced, anarchy reigned and for Jean-Luc Godard, he is a man who believed in Marxism and was sick of the bourgeoisie’s consumerism.
While it is known that a year later, Godard would embody Maoist ideology, in 1967, with his two films “La Cinoise” and “Weekend”, his feelings towards France and the bourgeoisie became apparent.
So, for one to watch “Weekend” and you are a Godard fan who loved “Breathless”, “Band of outsiders”, “Vivre sa vie”, “Pierrot le fou” to name a few of his films from 1960-1965, it’s best to not think of “Weekend” in the same context.
In fact, while watching this film, watch it as a film of rebellion, a film of revolution, a film that is cerebral and a film that must be appreciated at a different level.
Legendary film critic Andrew Sarris once wrote in his 1968 “Village Voice” review of “Weekend” and about Godard, “As much as Godard indulges in the rhetoric of rebellion, his deepest feelings seem to be situated before the revolution. He was born, he implies, too soon and too late, too soon to forget the sweetness of the past and too late to perpetuate that same sweetness, particularly in the remembered realm of movies with subjects not yet swallowed up by the subjective. Godard seems to want it both ways as the prime prophet of the first-person film and the lead mourner of the third-person movie”.
Another legendary film critic Pauline Kael wrote in 1967 in her review of “Weekend”, “Though deeply flawed, this film has more depth than any of Godard’s earlier work. It’s his vision of Hell and it ranks with the greatest. As a mystical movie, ‘Weekend’ is comparable to Berman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ and ‘Shame’ and Ichikawa’s ‘Fires on the Plain’ and the passages of Kurosawa, yet hardly aware of the magnitude of the writer-director’s conception until after we are caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and further and becoming more nearly inescapable, like ‘Journey to the End of the Night”.
Even in the visual essay by Kent Jones (included with The Criterion Collection release of “Weekend”), he also had his own interpretations of “Weekend”.
Watching “Weekend”, I can see why. The film is complex, it is cerebral, it is visual but it is a film which audacious yet beguiling.
The film begins with a noir-ish tale of two people making a play towards each other. Embodiment of greed and bourgeois society that cares about money and luxury, the characters of Corinne and Roland Durand are immoral and amoral. They care about nothing but themselves. The film would showcase society as too consumed by their consumerism and also showcasing Godard’s Marxist ideology but then it becomes nearly a titillating film with Corinne talking about her three-way sex experience with detail.
They are dangerous individuals who will get what they want and their next goal is to get and possibly kill Mireille’s father in order to obtain the inheritance. So, the two must travel on the weekend but nothing goes quite as they seem.
The traffic jam is unbearable as people are playing or doing something in their car, waiting impatiently with horns ablazing, while we see Roland and Corinne trying to drive past these stalled vehicles and leave. With one of the longest tracking shots you’ll see in cinema (long tracking shots are used a few times throughout the film), you see cars flipped over, dead people lying around, yet no one seems to care.
The vehicles are a symbol of the materialistic nature of the bourgeois and what is hilarious is watching how these people react and behave around their vehicles and possessions.
But then there are moments which probably may fly over the head of many Western audiences.
You have an uncredited cameo by actor Jean-Pierre Leaud as a surreal caricature of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, as he reads to the audience. Saint-Just was a military and political leader of the French Revolution and also known as the face of the “Reign of Terror” and dubbed as the “Angel of Death” because he led the mass executions of the “enemies of the revolution” via guillotine (nearly 17,000 people were executed). But Saint-Just was known for spearheading the movement to execute King Louis XVI.
You will see another scene in which a woman is screaming at a farmer who ran into her rich boyfriend and killing him and ruining her chances of happiness and being rich.
And while there are various scenes throughout the film based on various figures giving out a message (with one of Godard’s dark humor as both are in their burning car, Corinne screams for help because her Hermes bag is burning The two protagonists end up getting into an accident themselves and while trying to go to Oinville, end up being held by gunpoint, captured by the Seine and Oise Liberation Front who kidnap people, paint them and eat them.
And along with the political message, a little sexual imagery, you also get to see scenes which some may view as cruelty to animals as pig is hit in the head and has its throat slit, while a geese/duck gets its neck twisted and broken and while its body is flapping, we see it eventually die.
Suffice to say, “Weekend” is not a film that can easily be explained. It has to be watched and possibly be appreciated for Godard’s ability as a filmmaker to be given so much freedom and create a film of this nature. You’re not going to see anything like it and not everyone is going to love it, I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who said they loved Godard because of his 1960-1965 films will probably be perplexed by this film (and even today, as I have watched many of his films, I am perplexed by his last film “Film Socialisme” from 2011. But I don’t see it as a bad thing, if anything, I found watching Godard’s most challenging or cerebral films as a task for me to research and try to understand the film even more.
I knew nothing about the May 1968 strikes in France, nor was I familiar with Louis Antoine Leon de Sainte-Just.
But while you watching Sainte-Just talking about how one should fight in desperation against slavery, and even goes to a storyline of a Caucasian man talking about Africans and a Black man talking about the Caucasian, we sense that too much freedom is not a good thing for Godard as it has made people critical of society. For its anarchists and rebellious groups, they are hippies armed with machine guns, who play drums in the middle of nowhere, but yet are bohemians who travel from one area to another and engage in warfare.
And to probably ignite the flame of the debates of Godard being anti-Semitic, one scene in which a girl screams at Roland Corinne saying “Jews! Filthy rotten stinking Jews!“. Is this Godard’s mindset or is it his way of creating provocation and being the polemic filmmaker that he is. His films include messages of Marxism, but yet Godard tells Sarris in an interview that he has never read Marx. Suffice to say, Godard is an ever-changing man with perspectives that are complex and suffice to say, he is a man that no one will figure out. Even the women and the friends that once was in his life can testify to this changing filmmaker and individual, not always for the better but then again, Godard never gave a damn about the criticism.
But that is what makes “Weekend” a film that is so special in his oeuvre. A film like no other, a film that not everyone can understand but yet everyone is in a consensus that it’s a film that showcases the dark side of humanity.
As for the Blu-ray release, “Weekend” has been given a wonderful treatment by The Criterion Collection. Picture quality is wonderful and no dust or scratches can be seen, the booklet included is wonderful reading and the visual essay by Kent Jones was definitely needed, as I can suspect many people scratching their heads after watching this film. You also get lengthy interviews and overall, this is a very solid release from The Criterion Collection!
Overall, “Weekend” is an important film for those who follow Godard’s career, especially as it is the exclamation point (or question mark) to end his involvement with the French New Wave. As “La Chinoise” was significant in story and Godard’s mindset, “Weekend” was more of the middle finger to Bourgeois society with a capital F, in “Fuck You” to the government and the people that he could no longer stand and eventually would lead him to create political films for the next few years.
Audacious, polemic and unique…”Weekend” is a film that represents the end of Jean-Luc Godard and his involvement with the French New Wave, especially with “bourgeois” narrative filmmaking. A film that is unlike any other nor is it an easy film that can be easily explained, “Weekend” must be watched and experienced! A film that I highly recommend for the cineaste who enjoy complexity and cerebral films, not for the casual viewer expecting simplicity. Recommended!
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