Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Ratings (out of five): ****
On his ballot for the recent Sight and Sound poll, Weekend director Andrew Haigh cited Michael Mann’s The Insider as one of the ten best films ever made. Watching Weekend, the inclusion makes total sense. Haigh’s tightly controlled, color-coded mise-en-scene is very closely akin to Mann’s. Weekend also shares visual DNA with two other recent astonishing breakthrough films – Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Antonio Campos’ Afterschool. However, unlike the three filmmakers mentioned above, Haigh’s film has a deep humanity that provides a messy contrast to his visual restraint.
The film documents the torrid emotional relationship that follows a one-night stand. Demure Russell (Tom Cullen) encounters fiery Glen (Chris New) at a club. They go home together (even though Glen later admits that Russell was his second choice). And the rest of the film is their attempt to untangle (or, perhaps, further entangle) the melding of their persons.
Their relationship begins in earnest the following morning. Before he can finish his morning tea, Russell is being interrogated intensely by Glen as a part of the latter’s art project. Glen wants to know about Russell’s impression of the night before, asking pointed questions that make the shy Russell squirm a bit. Glen is a politically active agitator whose primary objective is queering (literally and figuratively) the mainstream. Russell, on the other hand, is quite content to keep his sexuality just this side of the closet. (Glen: Are you actually out? Russell: Yes. Glen: Are you sure about that?)
The film follows the couple over the next two days, as they get to know each other, have lots of sex, compare notes about former lovers, and – most of all – express their own frustrations with finding that most elusive quarry, True Love. Glen has cynically renounced boyfriends, Russell is a Romantic. During the epic conversations between the two men, Haigh intentionally shot no coverage, allowing the discussions to unfold in real time. All the while, Haigh (and ace cinematographer Ula Pontikos) maintain an exquisite control, framing the men’s workaday lives beautifully.
Haigh’s script wears any sort of politics lightly. Its primary concern is relational verities that transcend any type of coupling. The film’s most brilliant conceit, voiced by Glen, is that people use new relationships (however casual) as a blank slate for their own lives. Both Glen and Russell see each other as a means to transcend their current reality. Weekend does a fantastic job illustrating this hope/illusion, rooting for its characters while keeping a eye on reality. In addition to Haigh, Weekend also introduces the world to the kind-faced Cullen and the intense New. Both performances are sui generis.
In an interview that accompanies Criterion’s stellar release of Weekend, Haigh balks at being labeled a “gay filmmaker” and the film bears this out; the film is a love story, first and foremost, above and beyond any political/cultural function it may serve. In a cultural climate where inflamed dialogue about bigoted fried chicken constitutes serious discussion about GLBT issues, Weekend’s nonchalance is refreshing (and very needed).
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