They say that time makes fools of us all, and it certainly seems true of the couple at the heart of Le Week-End. This increasingly-erratic romp through Paris reunites writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell for their fourth project since the 1993 mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia. This time it’s a bittersweet examination of a marriage in crisis that plays out like The Out-of-Towners, but with a sizable helping of existential angst.
As we set out, it only seems that the Burrows — Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) — are off for a quick weekend’s vacation in Paris, where they honeymooned once in their long-ago youth. But the stairs to the romantic garrett they once shared have grown steep, and the flophouse has redecorated; Nick would make the best, but Meg is having none of it. They are soon ensconced in one of the fanciest hotels in the city, with a straight view to the Eiffel tower from their balcony.
On the surface, the dynamic seems easy to read: Nick is risk-averse, still accustomed to pinching pennies and saving for a rainy day, while Meg is a freer spirit who realizes they’ll be okay with a splurge. As happens over and over in Kureishi’s screenplay, the truth is rather more complicated. Nick and Meg aren’t in quite such good shape as the furnishings would suggest, but the details of their troubles leak out slowly. And Michell lets us learn about them by watching the events of the weekend unfold, rather like Mike Leigh does in Another Year.
There’s more than a passing similarity between Broadbent’s performance in the two films, actually, although Tom’s life is rather more stable than Nick’s. In a way, Le Week-End provides a sort of mirror-reflection of Another Year; Tom and Gerri pull together against the ups and downs of life, while Nick and Meg have a more contentious relationship. Outside stresses may temper a relationship, but they may bend or break it just as easily.
And so the pair careen through Paris, alternatively sniping at and taking cover in each other, and spending more than a little time looking backwards at what they once had. Not so much what they had together — that seems to have held pretty constant over the years — but what they together once had in the world. Nick, the introvert, loses himself in Bob Dylan on his iPod and tacks clippings up to the hotel wall; Meg, the extrovert, vents her pent-up frustrations at a young mother-to-be, standing where she herself once stood so many years go.
For all their flaws and regrets, Nick and Meg are at least honest, or at the very least they like to think of themselves as honest. They wear their cynical disappointment on their sleeves, in contrast to their hypocritical, starry-eyed American friend (Jeff Goldblum), who claims to believe the world can be changed by throwing enough money at it, just so long as he can keep a piece of that money before throwing the rest.
What emerges by the time the credits roll is not only a vignette of an aging couple’s marital difficulties, but a metaphorical reflection on international relations looking back over the same decades. As western baby-boomers like Nick and Meg look back and take stock of their legacy, what they see may depend a lot on both where they came from, and where they stand right now. And though some of them may strive for honest self-assessment, they always risk falling back into complacent nostalgia.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.