TIFF Cinematheque presents a Summer in France: ‘Weekend’ a showcase of Godard à la Bertolt Brecht

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Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Written by Jean-Luc Godard

France, 1967

It’s specious to call this a movie review, because Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend isn’t really a movie, per se. It doesn’t really have a plot. Doesn’t really have defined characters. Nor does it really cohere in totality.

No, this isn’t a movie. This is Godard. This is Godard experimenting with the medium, bending and manipulating the form. This is an enterprise that’s deliberate and calculated, yet fractured and disjointed. This is a filmmaker communicating directly to the audience, and not by proxy. This is a showcase of Godard à la Bertolt Brecht. This is the work of a director whom can truly be called an auteur.

In his film, Weekend, a married couple looks to take an idyllic weekend trip to the French countryside. But almost immediately, even before they’ve left the parking lot, things start to go awry, and as their journey unfolds, the two encounter a series of inexplicable misadventures and absurdum ad infinitum.

First and foremost, it’s imperative to understand that the ‘story’ in Weekend is inconsequential. Lacking any discernable direction, the narrative detours in the film, where the story will go on random and bemusing tangents, is purposely designed as a Brechtian construct, meant to break the viewers suspension of disbelief.

We are not supposed to care for the married couple, or invest emotionally in their escapades. In fact, almost everything on-screen is either superficial, irrelevant, or an affectation.

The audience is deliberately alienated from the story, and is forced to reflect and take a critical view of what’s going on. We are provoked and encouraged to deconstruct the ideas in the film, rather than absorb it.

In particular, we are meant to dissect the convoluted mind of the director. With an attack on the apathetic French bourgeoisie as his thesis, Godard will also pontificate about the perversion of traditional ideals and institutions (i.e. philosophy), the emptiness of political rhetoric (i.e. Marx), the destructive nature of consumerism (i.e. automobiles), the cruel promises of capitalism, and the doomed future of society; just to name a few.

Take, for example, the infamous traffic jam sequence. Although one of the most torturous and interminable scenes in the history of cinema, the scene functions as an example of the stagnate and frustrated circumstances of the middle class, as well as demonstrating their apathy towards human tragedy and the self-centered pursuits of individuals embattled in a collective struggle. Godard engenders these feelings into the viewer, and however disconcerting they are, it’s undeniably effective.

These ideas are often told by metaphors and imagery, but Godard often betrays his penchant for the quaint and whimsical by being too literal in his approach. There are times where we are literally being lectured to, and it can become obnoxious to say the least.

But furthermore, Weekend is incredibly Meta and self-conscious. This extends the effectiveness of the metaphors, for they start to transcend political commentary and becomes analogous for the state of cinema as a whole (note the characters being aware of the fact that they are in a movie, plus the film’s last title card).

This sort of bathos filmmaking may be too tiresome for some viewers, and it’s entirely conceivable that, when they become alienated from the story, viewers can be alienated from the film as a whole.

But it’s, again, important to emphasize that Weekend is holistic. As parts, they are too disparate and arbitrary to be fully appreciated. But taken as a whole, Weekend is greater than the sum of its parts, providing a complete, if admittedly frustrating look into the political convictions of Mr. Jean-Luc Godard.

*Warning: there are some pretty gruesome acts of animal cruelty in this film, which, frankly, cannot be justified

– Justin Li

Weekend is a part of TIFF Cinematheque’s ‘Summer in France’. For more information and tickets, please visit the official website

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