Sunday, September 29, 2013

NYFF ’13: Le Week-End

Thanks to the Chunnel and relaxed EU customs, it is relatively easy for a late middle-aged British couple to pop over to Paris for a romantic getaway—unfortunately.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, but they make the trip nonetheless.  The pent-up resentment will flow freely in Roger Michell’s Le Week-End (trailer here), which screens during the 51st New York Film Festival.

Old lefty lit professor Nick Burrows’ only success in life was marrying his wife Meg, but she never lets him forget she was and still is well out of his league. The magic ran dry quite a while ago, but recent pressures have only made matters worse. For Nick, this sentimental trip will be a desperate attempt to renew their relationship, but his wife may have different ideas. Probably the last person he needs to run into would be Morgan, his vastly more successful former hipster protégé, yet that is exactly what happens.

Week-End is very definitely a writer’s film, completely driven by its often caustic dialogue. It seems like screenwriter Hanif Kureishi takes sadistic pleasure from old put-upon Nick’s discomfort, forcing him into one dignity-stripping conversation after another.  This necessarily means Meg gets most of the film’s sharpest wince-inducing lines.

Frankly, you have to sympathize with poor Nick on some level. A mere ninety minutes of Meg’s withering banter is exhausting, so the prospect of a lifetime of marriage with her makes the head reel.  Still, Kureishi maintains the consistency of their voices and scores a number of rueful laughs.

Perhaps the viewers’ best friend during Week-End is Jeremy Sams, whose elegant jazz-influenced score (featuring trumpeter Freddie Gavita) gives us something warm and agreeable to hold onto.  Even though they are radically dissimilar films, the combination of muted trumpet and Parisian streets by night immediately calls to mind Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows and its Miles David soundtrack.

As Meg Burrows, Lindsay Duncan wields Kureishi’s cutting lines like a scimitar. Yet, Jim Broadbent’s hang-dog face draws Michell’s focus like a magnet. They spark like crazy together, but it is still hard to believe the extreme emotional disparity of their union.  To lighten the mood, Michell turns Jeff Goldblum loose as Morgan, lifting all restraints on his schticky mannerisms with rather amusing results.

It is pleasant to soak up Weed-End’s Paris locations while listening to the moody but swinging score. In a way, it provides a tart rejoinder to films like Marigold Hotel and Quartet, reminding audiences seniors are not always cute. Well crafted but somewhat over-written, Le Week-End is recommended for fans of talky relationship films when it screens tonight (9/29) at Alice Tully Hall and Monday after next (10/7) at the Walter Reade Theater, as a Main Slate selection of this year’s NYFF.