If there was ever a time for Weekend to reappear, it’s our recessionary, Occupied era. The vivid, restored print of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 era-ender (brought to market via the Criterion Collection’s new DVD and Blu-ray editions) can find an audience of 99 percenters for whom its black-comic contempt for the absurd misadventures of a married pair of debauched haute-bourgeois assholes will make more sense than ever, or at least will seem funnier. And for all Godard’s well-established cinematic disruptions (e.g. the random, nonsensical title cards) and polemical dosing (e.g. long stretches of revolutionary rhetoric more or less read straight into the camera), it bears being reminded that Weekend is funny, and savagely so.
Within minutes, it has been established that not only are Roland (Jean Yanne) and Corinne (Mireille Darc) both having affairs, they’re both scheming to kill the other, though not before they claim the inheritance that they believe they so richly deserve, by killing her father if need be. (At one point they blithely discuss the poison they’ve been slipping into his food for years.) But the center isn’t holding in the world just outside their apartment; fender benders turn into armed brawls with shots fired. Snatches of ominous thriller music portend trouble, though Roland and Corinne seem to be doing their best to earn whatever’s coming.
As they leave the city for the countryside, further evidence of societal breakdown presents itself in the film’s de facto centerpiece. Godard crafts a busy eight-minute tracking shot along an endless line of cars backed up along a country lane, a single scrolling image encompassing dozens of vehicles, perhaps hundreds of extras engaged in various bits of business, zoo animals, a sailboat, and, always, incessant horn honking. It’s a conceptual/technical triumph as significant as you’ll find anywhere in movies, especially for 1967 and Godard’s shoestring budgets, and it’s reason enough to see Weekend all on its own. Roland and Corinne’s line-cutting and everyone’s flaring impatience seem even more callous when the hold-up/punchline rolls into view—a horrific traffic accident that’s left bodies strewn all over the sides of the road. Godard ends the scene with the flourish of his protagonists speeding off past a policeman through the pooling blood.
Car accidents recur (with even more blood and flames), as do elaborate tracking shots, slapstick comedy bits, period-costumed characters (including Jean-Pierre Leaud, Francois Truffaut’s onscreen muse), fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans, and other absurdities. Our protagonists’ encounters grow ever more chaotic and violent, but they remain nonplussed, nominally secure in their entitled bubble. Early on, they meet what can only be described as a hippie wizard, who offers to grant their wildest wishes in exchange for a ride to London. All they can come up with are flash cars, fancy clothes, ritzy houses. When their car finally meets its doom in a fiery pile-up, carnage everywhere, Corinne wails, “My Hermes handbag!”
Godard had already established himself as an auteur supreme, sparking the New Wave with Truffaut, launching a revolution in cinema, and directing an astonishing 15 feature films in seven years, several of them form-redefining masterpieces. But Godard was increasingly obsessed with another revolution sweeping across the ’60s: communism-fueled worldwide class struggle, or at least the first-world pose of urging it on. As Roland and Corinne descend into depravity, along with the entire French countryside, Godard quite literally lectures the viewer via various onscreen proxies, pounding away at length with revolutionary didacticism. Though he would never stop working (he released his latest, 2010’s Film Socialisme, at age 80), after Weekend his obsession would propel him into an artistic break with cinema as a commercial enterprise for nominal entertainment that would last more than a decade.
By Weekend’s closing reel, deep in the middle of the following week, Roland and Corinne have been revealed as class-bound narcissists who will do anything to survive—in the end, one more so than the other. They have found themselves hostages of a revolutionary cadre/hippie camp squatting in the green glades of a forest, and the viewer is perhaps feeling a bit held hostage, too, browbeaten into submission and waiting for a final end. But Godard rarely fails to surprise as a filmmaker—when Roland and Corinne wreck their car, symbol of their bourgeois agency, the director “wrecks” the film with frame rolls. And, again, there’s a thread of Weekend that remains a darkly comic road movie: The couple enacts a slapstick routine to steal a sweater-shouldered bon vivant’s roadster and loses a ride by failing an on-the-spot current-events quiz. At one point Corinne attempts to hitchhike, at Roland’s urging, by lying in the road and spreading her legs. Weekend is hard to enjoy in certain respects, not least its intellectual reserve, but there’s nothing quite as cheering as watching odious yuppies get what they deserve, and Godard was quite enthusiastic about that.