Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Review of Weekend (2011)

Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend” is a British film about two gay men who meet on a Friday night, have a one-night stand, and try not to fall in love over the eponymous timeframe as they contend with the knowledge that one of them is going away to America in two days to do a two year art course. For ninety-odd minutes we observe the pair, Glen (Chris New) and Russell (Tom Cullen), as they make love, take drugs, pontificate, philosophise, and tease their feelings for each other. They barely know each other, but that spark is there, and it burns ever brighter as the weekend goes on.

It’s a torturous state of affairs, and it’s one that the film understands perfectly. Rooted in the minutiae of British life- think high-rise flats, dodgy nightclubs, and cups of tea and coffee- this film has a certain enchanting aura to it, bolstered by Ula Pontikos’ dreamy photography, the floaty shot composition (one scene seems to echo the apartment sequence in Godard’s Breathless) and the naturalistic acting. The film sticks by Glen, and director Haigh takes time to observe his behaviours; he keeps his trainers in their shoebox, for example, and he is clearly made uncomfortable by crowds of people. He’s quiet, and softly spoken. He takes baths, not showers. His eyes have a warm, dark quality about them. He is not one to talk about his feelings, and we sense a loneliness about him.

Russell is different. He’s loud, excitable, and friendly in that way which comes across as subduing a certain sadness, and as we find out, he is. Glen and Russell go together in that way that opposites tend to, introvert and extrovert; they fill in each other’s gaps. Russell has an ongoing art project interviewing strangers after sex, which Glen is reluctant to be a part of, but he nevertheless gives it a go, in part out of curiosity. His words are mumbled, and forced. He is not a man especially comfortable in his own life and skin, and to an extent the film represents his personal flowering. He does one thing at the end of the film which he would not have done at the beginning; there’s genuine development going on here.

Haigh, who also wrote, is careful to keep one eye open regarding society’s views of homosexuality. Early on, Glen hears homophobic slurs coming from Russell’s window, and he shouts down angrily. It is not the first time we hear homophobic slurs in the film. What I found especially interesting was that the film does not come across as having an axe to grind, and it takes care to present both sides. Glen, being who he is, seems to want more rights for gay people, or at least more recognition. He’s indignant that “the straights” tend to box gay people up. Russell, on the other hand, simply wants what everyone else has; cosiness, comfort, happiness. He’s less concerned with agendas, and more with overcoming his loneliness.

We hear the pair share their stories. One particularly painful moment sees Glen talk about how he got walked in on by a friend when he was masturbating. He wasn’t friends with that person any more, and “I wasn’t friends with anyone else after he told the school”

“That’s awful, Glen”
“It is what it is”

This is ultimately a tender and truthful film with a detached, observant style that really allows us to get under the skin of the characters. It contains moments that are genuinely moving, genuinely sexy, and genuinely tragic, and the film as a whole is genuine. It’s the kind of movie with characters who reference other movies. It takes care to suck the viewer in, and it’s far more than simply being a gay Before Sunrise. It’s a spellbinding experience from beginning to end that has similarities with Lost In Translation in what it says about human connections.

I was moved, plainly and simply, by the plight of the characters in this bewitching love story, which understands that true love isn't easy, it isn't always convenient, and yet is sometimes painfully unavoidable.

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