The 'Somerton film club' likes to show titles that are a little off the beaten track sometimes, and we watched Le Weekend in the village hall last Friday week.
The opening line on IMDB is "A British couple return to Paris many years after their honeymoon there in an attempt to rejuvenate their marriage.". All I can say is that this is an approximation of the reality, which appears to be a gentle slide toward hell for Nick (Jim Broadbent) and the self-defeating domination and withering of their relationship for Meg (Lindsay Duncan).
It's an interesting, saddening insight into the results of aging on both the relationship between them and their political and moral ideals. Nick is basically a 'nice bloke' who is gently losing control, finding life increasingly challenging as he nears retirement age. You get to see the little insecurities that are part of that process, with him worrying where his keys, money, passport etc are, and being unable to settle without be reassured. He has tried to arrange the weekend away for them to re-live the things they did when they were young and in love, which involves typical French 'budget' hotels, thereby provoking Meg's anger.
Meg, on the other hand, is becoming entirely the centre of her universe, is only really happy when she is in control and by Nick's distress at his insecurity, being at her mercy. There is an early scene in a taxi where she angrily demands 'the money' and then keeps passing cash to the driver to keep taking them around, with Nick showing increasing anguish at each payment while her pleasure is heightened. Eventually they end up at a very expensive hotel, where she passes over the credit card, knowing they can't afford it and simply not caring how things work out.
Of course that's not how it starts out.
With a film of this nature you know that the director is going to feed clues and hints in order to gradually unpack the characters and their history, almost as predictably as pretty girls will fall into bed with James Bond. So initially Nick appears a doddery old git and understandably Meg a tolerant but frazzled wife, struggling to cope with his weaknesses. Information is gradually fed in: you find out about their absence of sex life, that his career as a Philosophy prof at a red-brick is over because he explained reality in words of one syllable to a student, his affair 15 years before that gave Meg the power she now wields in their relationship and that there was a likely affair in her past that she never quite denies while abusing him for accusing her.
Then there are the little insights into their physical relationship.
It becomes clear that Meg is in almost total control, and that any kind of sexual favour (as if Nick should ever be so lucky) has a price attached. So when she accidentally cuts him and he demands to see her breasts, the stage is set for the doggie scene, and it's only seeing the latter in the context of the former that it makes any sense. It's all done very discretely, but there comes a point when you almost have to shake your head in disbelief - I actually said "You WHAT?" out loud at that point of the film.
There is an attempt to redeem Meg to the viewer, portraying Nick as someone who 'married his feminine side' and lost his masculinity, while what she wants is a real man. I can't decide if this a serious effort, a bit of smokescreen or an attempt to show just how unpleasant the natural conclusion of feminist socialism really is. I am SO grateful I did not marry a woman of the character that I seemed to see all around me at one time: Nick's situation was literally the stuff of my nightmares, and I've seen a few men that have fallen victim to women like that. We talked afterward about how Meg repeatedly called Nick a f***ing idiot, as if that was completely acceptable and his feelings could not possibly be of any consequence.
Why watch it at all?
There's a light and redeeming side to the darkness of it all in the unlikely form of Jeff Goldblum as Morgan, an American intellectual bum and kind of money-grabbing idiot-savant. He was a protege of Nick's from their much younger days, and is quite in awe of him, yet he's completely sold himself to corporate life and money-making. He appears by 'chance', having got divorced, moved to Paris and started a new life with his pretty French wife who is heavily pregnant at this point. When he has a chance to talk with Nick alone he 'comes clean', admits he's a fraud and is terrified of when his wife will see through his facade and dump him. Meanwhile Morgan's wife is talking with Meg and expresses how completely in awe and in love she is with her husband and how happy she is just to be with him. Of course Meg cannot tolerate someone else's happiness and finds just a few words to, if possible, demolish her - unsuccessfully it appears.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments too, though I simply can't recall any of them right now.
The final scene has Nick, Meg and Morgan in a bar, dancing together. Some might try to interpret that as a way of saying 'everything will be OK in the end', but I rather suspect if this were real life then it would be the last memory of happiness in Nick's life before returning home to the dole queue, early senility and regular lashings with an acid tongue.
Would I recommend it?
It's certainly a stimulating film, and left me thinking about it for several days afterward. I'd not watch it for pleasure or 'light entertainment' but it could be a useful talking point if one wanted to provoke discussion either among seniors about life and expectation, or among younger people on a marriage course.