Saturday, October 14, 2006

Week End

by Steven Boone

WEEK END is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film about a hateful bourgeois couple traveling through a rural stretch of France strewn with dead bodies and burning vehicles. Looks like the end of the world. It’s the tumultuous late '60s, but this particular doomsday feels strangely like a JACKASS stunt, or those smarmy anti-smoking commercials. With rape and cannibalism. WEEK END takes not taking itself seriously way too seriously.

I’ve always found Godard pretty tedious, even when he’s serving up airy souffles like BREATHLESS and BAND OF OUTSIDERS. He loves cinema, sure, but nowhere near as much as he hates the hypocrisy and self-delusion of the ruling classes worldwide. (Damn. He should have been a union organizer or a terrorist. Maybe he was at some point.) His lucid politics, his ideas about civilization versus barbarism, his idea of a joke (amateur Python), his solidarity with the oppressed, his pessimism about human connection... all these rueful observations he expresses in apocalyptic rants, gags, verbal riffs and visual non sequiturs that resurface later as damning correlatives to said riffs. But, for all the operatic tracking shots, he has little rhythm and no heart. If that’s your thing, eat up. In the dark of the theater, I prefer singers over scientists.

Godard’s brilliance and right-on radicalism don’t add up to an essential filmmaker. WEEK END plays the way I suspect the elaborate social provocations of Euro auteurs like Noe, Haneke, Ozon and von Trier will come off in the near future—like snotty tantrums. Storytelling, what’s that? Actually, all of these guys know how to tell a story, but they’re too smart(-ass) to bother most of the time. The film-of-ideas is just as tiring to me as the novel-of-ideas. Everything’s random access, nothing you need settle down to watch in the dark. Hang it in a gallery or lay it on the coffee table, but feel free to look away, drift and return the way you might if Godard himself were crowding you, dispensing his wisdom along with a tiny whiff of bourbon.

WEEK END messes around with title cards and jarring sound transitions in the manner of later films like FIRST NAME: CARMEN and EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF. While his mouthpiece characters resist all forms of hegemony in word and deed, his picture and sound follow suit, refusing to cooperate with Hollywood’s soothing formal dictates. An absurdly long, xxx-rated monologue about a sexual threesome accompanies the ultimate stylistic sin: The camera zooms in and out at random while an ominous music cue drops out intermittently, senselessly. Might as well be gonzo porn scraps. But as the backlit protagonist in her underwear drones out the story to her lover, the effect satisfies neither a porn nor cinema jones. It’s just Godard being rebellious, nerd-naughty.

Later, he orchestrates an even longer shot tracking an endless traffic jam out of the Old Testament. All kinds of surreal and gory events pass through the frame in “real” time. All I could think of was the amount of money and manpower it must have taken to pull this silly scene off. Maybe that’s what Godard wants us to think about.

A child of the Nazi occupation of France, Godard has admitted to being a cinematic resistance fighter down to his socks. WEEK END is what happens when a resistance fighter sprays the machine gun so indiscriminately he kills even the thing he is presumably fighting for—in this case, true cinematic poetry.

01967: 105 minutes: dir. by Jean-Luc Godard: written by Jean-Luc Godard


  1. I can't articulate my response very well today but for now I gotta say I dig this movie more than you despite its faults. Occasionally it veers into Haneke's arena of tween brutality philosophizing but I think Godard is a smarter filmmaker--he'd never make something as ill-conceived as CACHE--whose analytical skills are just as proficient as his filmmaking skills. (But then, I think people like Haneke because he marries Godard's jabbing sensabilities with Bresson's restraint. But that's another essay, I fear.)

    Okay, my brain is too jumbled and my girlfriend's watching TV so I can't really say everything I want right now. I'll do a better job tomorrow. Regardless, as usual your writing is really witty and fun, so thanks. More later.

  2. Let's start at the end, which really was the beginning for the rest of Godard's career:

    FIN becomes FIN DU CINEMA, signaling Godard's big break up with his first true love, cinema. He'd already started saying "It's me, not you" at the beginning of the picture but that was the last he had to offer.

    The entire film is a catalogue and response to his career up to that point, it seems, starting with that "absurdly long, xxx-rated monologue about a sexual threesome" as a comment on the opening scene of CONTEMPT. The continuous wreckage throughout echoes not only BREATHLESS & PIERROT LE FOU's mania but CONTEMPT again, except the bougie in that movie actually get killed, handbag and all.

    I think WEEK END is great formally but somewhat of a pain to watch, to be honest. Godard anticipates and plays with preconceived notions of theory better than his fellow Caheirs homies but he takes it to such an extreme in WEEK END that the parade of chaos wears the viewer thin. PIERROT has similar aims and has fun along the way, something that WEEK END severly lacks. I have to agree that "WEEK END takes not taking itself seriously way too seriously." Where PIERROT was whimsical, WEEK END is wham bam ugly.

    But that's not to say it's not an essential movie or JLG isn't an essential filmmaker. I just can't defend it well enough right now, having not seen it in forever and the last time I rented it I fell asleep cuz my gf started it at like 11 on a Tuesday night or something. My defense of JLG is that before WEEK END he seemed in love with the world as well as cinema, in spite of its flaws, but as the 60s wore on he saw more and more hypocrisy and idiot logic and it made him a sourpuss. Before, though, he was a true cinematic OG routinely throwing down some heavy, brilliant shit.

  3. Well, damn if that wasn't a brilliant shutmeup. You get at the flick's aims and problems a lot better than my post. Never saw Contempt, never saw quite a few of Godard's major works, so where do I come off?

    This sounds pinpoint correct:
    "FIN becomes FIN DU CINEMA, signaling Godard's big break up with his first true love, cinema. He'd already started saying "It's me, not you" at the beginning of the picture but that was the last he had to offer."

    But even the pre-Week End Godard seems a dour scold to me, like a headmaster who takes a stab at shooting the breeze with the kids but flashes the ugliest, meanest smile. If he were a funk musician he'd be Beck.

    He had no cause to dump cinema when, to my eye, he never showed all that much mastery. Despite his passions, his camera eye isn't all that compelling (where would he and Truffaut have been without Raoul Coutard, I wonder.) Maybe cinema dumped him. If he couldn't squeeze any more love and fun and inspiration out of the form, I'd say it definitely IS him.

    What's definitely ME is a prejudice for directors who love to engage the senses rather than terrorize them. Filmmakers who craft careers out of treating audiences like laboratory animals, I want to ask them, "So, what do you do for fun?"

  4. That said, I'm gonna find time to see some of the beloved early Godards that I missed. Your fault.

  5. I think his main impetus to change was the world around him. Similar to the "After Auschwitz" philosophy that asks, "What's the point to make believe after Auschwitz?" In 1967 it was building ire towards Western imperialism, specifically his native country's. In the next decade it became "After Vietnam" and now it's "After 9/11". [I've stolen this near verbatim from the Schrader essay in this month's Film Comment, which I'm hoping to write about soon.]

    SO... yeah, go check out PIERROT LE FOU (pure playful magic, but sad), UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME (probably the most fun), MASCULIN-FEMININ (perfect: really) and definitely CONTEMPT (probably the finest, formally speaking, if not the most fun) to see his command.

    I will agree that Raoul Coutard kicks a lot of butt and saved his but I see the mischieviousness in Godard as fun. I guess it's diff'rent strokes...

    And watch what you say about Beck around here. He may have fallen off as hard as Freestyle Fellowship promised they wouldn't but for a while he was the shit.

  6. One other thing: you remember your boy Armond White likened WAR OF THE WORLDS to this picture? He said something about how Spielberg's film was the most avant garde film of 2005...

  7. White is my crazy soulmate: I was thinking about WotW as I watched Week End. But only superficially. I can't take the leap with him and call it avant garde.

    Beck: oops, tracking mud on your carpet. I like his videos...

  8. You can read the pretty groovy, if not completely convincing article I was thinking about right here.

  9. I can't imagine what watching Week End without having seen those films Ryland recommends. The film is an elaborate parody, farewell and fuck you from Godard to himself and the whole New Wave, inspired by his own increasingly radical politics (Maoism, of all things). Without that context, it must be excruciating.

    Godard's interesting because he's never didactic, even when he takes up valuable screen time with interminable speeches on the virtues of violent revolution against the capitalist elite. Instead of being lectured to by Godard, you get the feeling he's trying out every idea that floats into his head, some interesting, some profound, some tedious and some just plain wrong. The randomness, absurdity, and invention of it all is exhilarating, beyond and in addition to any considerations of style. As opposed to Cache, a film with one or two definite ideas that are neither sophisticated or alive.

    If I ever have my own movie theatre, I'm calling it the End Of Cinemas.

  10. Well said, Sean. I'll suspend any further sniping on a great filmmaker til I actually see more.

    But, daggit, I got the sense that this film was some kind of recapitulation/kiss-off, and minus further context it just felt like an extravagant suicide note by some child of privilege who knows that all eyes are on him--and who knows damn well he ain't about to kill himself. Abusing the attention.

    I'm queing up the flicks, but now I also want to see the video works that transpired between New Wave and neo-Godard.

  11. Manny Farber has this to say about Godard: "In short, no other film-maker has so consistently made me feel like a stupid ass."