‘Must see’ movie : Le Week-End

It is the August of their lives, and elderly couple Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) Burrows are absolutely lost. They’re attempting to go on holiday, during what we’re to imagine is one of the quietest moments in their shared life. The abrasiveness of Meg’s jokes suggests that things were never going well between the two, but they were at least “going”: now, in one of the harsher exchanges of Le Week-End, Meg considers Nick’s hugs to make her feel like she’s being “arrested.” He humours her because, why shouldn’t he? Nick doesn’t have to say anything, but Broadbent’s eyes are enough to convey that this woman is all he has

Roger Michell’s new film gains traction by observing Broadbent’s hangdog features. No one in contemporary film conveys quite as much sadness as Broadbent does when he looks up, his bulbous neck swollen with all the words he just could never say. Your grief for him is never as overwhelming due to those intelligent eyes, but Michell finds a way to flirt with those limits. Throughout half of Le Week-End, Nick’s eyes are hopelessly affixes to Meg’s beauty, which even in her later years hasn’t abandoned her, nor has she lost her figure. Meg is still vivacious in her advanced age, but through Broadbent’s eyes she remains the prettiest girl at the party

Things start on an off note - hardly the last - as Meg, a woman of very definite opinions, summarily rejects the hotel they’ve booked. Assessing their room, she grumbles, “It’s … uh … beige,” as if that were a well-known universal violation of good taste. After a costly sight-seeing cab ride to buck up her spirits, she and Nick check into a wildly expensive and duly superior establishment and set about realising their perfect City of Love weekend

Although the two have reached what should be a comfortable near-retirement, things are unstable back home. A hapless grown son has just moved out with his wife and child, yet is already begging to be taken in again, something Meg adamantly opposes. Nick has bad news: Flippant advice he gave a student prompted her to file a formal complaint, and now he’s being forced into early retirement from his university professorship. Meg is sick of her own teaching job, and fancies drastic life changes as financially whimsical as her attitude toward credit-card charges in Paris. Nonetheless, they manage to enjoy the city and each other enormously at times, even when running out on an astronomical restaurant bill or visiting Samuel Beckett’s grave

Michell’s handling of the relationship between the two is touching in how little judgment he passes. Certainly there’s something torturous about Meg’s ongoing temptation of the man she has just spurned. Rejection has its power, and Michell makes sure to position Duncan at the top or foreground of the frame, Broadbent in the back. But both Nick and Meg are in denial: Nick attempting to forget that he is aged and unwanted, Meg that she’s wasted her prime years as a seductress

The catalyst that prompts each of them to step outside and take a broader view of their marriage is a chance encounter with Morgan, a Cambridge buddy Nick hasn’t seen in years. Played in a slyly amusing turn by Jeff Goldblum that injects a different kind of energy into the film, Morgan is equal parts smug and charming

Morgan’s serendipitous appearance in the narrative allows Nick and Meg to take their dysfunction to the film’s climactic dinner party, just as frustration is bubbling over – Meg’s sexy heels prompt a deluded Nick to ask, “Did you buy those for me?” when he already knows the answer. At the dinner party both leads have telling encounters with other guests - Nick’s with the host’s neglected son (Olly Alexander) from an abandoned first marriage, and Meg with their host’s gorgeous pregnant second wife (Judith Davis). while secretly in the midst of possibly their most serious argument ever. Yet the public nadir they reach might just restore the Burrowses to each others’ good graces

In addition to its unsentimental observation of the compromises of marriage, Kureishi’s screenplay gives poignant consideration to midlife nostalgia for youthful promise and idealism, a thread nourished by the use of songs by Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. Ending on a note of irresolution that’s calculatedly whimsical yet irresistible, the movie is modest but affecting, enhanced by the cool strains of Jeremy Sams’ mellow jazz score and by Nathalie Durand’s unfettered camerawork. But its chief distinction is the intelligence and heart of its central performances

Michell has created a film where cruelty has become a warm blanket for desperate spouses, and there is poetry to that. This couple stares into the apocalypse, and to each of them it reminds of something different, but at the very least, therein lies comfort that they do it together

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