Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

You wouldn’t know it from the picture above (other than the dried-up blood on the girl’s green shirt), but these fine people were either witnesses or direct parties to a fatal, gruesome automobile accident mere moments before – one where quite a few nasty words were exchanged, I might add.  But now, of course, in typical Godard fashion, they’re posing together as if the guy in the fucking Sears photo studio told them to make their best mug shot faces.  I’ve tried to make myself numb to these little eccentricities of Godard’s by now – the weird intertitles/commentary, the humor of which goes completely over my head more often than not, the extreme closeups of those faces as chaos ensues with the aftermath of that car wreck, the long tracking shots, the random recitation by this character or that of a thing resembling philosophy or poetry – but “Week End” is certainly, by Godard’s standards, the tippy-top of his eccentric-meter: a gory, bizarre journey for a despicable couple that’s a biting-as-hell criticism of…what?  Comsumerism?  America?  Capitalism?  Greed?  Sexual repression…or sexual excess?  Maybe all of the above, but I don’t care, ‘cuz all “Week End” is trying to be is a big shock and awe campaign against anything and everything Godard finds irritating about society, meant to incite and to infuriate.  Well, it sure as hell infuriated me, but I’m not infuriated at what Godard’s infuriated at, I’m infuriated that I wasted a good 90+ minutes sitting through this failed experiment in testing the limits of political correctness in film, that turns into little more than a maddening exercise in style and shock points, that tries to make some grand message but just repulses, angers, and annoys.  “Week End” infuriated me like few films ever have.

Alright, so it starts with some bra and panties-clad woman seen in semi-silhouette giving her husband a looong description of her previous sexual exploits with another man and woman, as descriptively as you can imagine, using words and descriptions of anatomy and sex acts I never thought I’d hear in a film from the 1960s, even a French film, far from the puritanical confines of Hollywood, and it’s all set to sarcastically ominous music.  Okay, I thought, this is pretty interesting, and faux-mysterious/sarcastic, and this story she’s telling, and the droll way she’s telling it, is pretty damn hot.  Hot, but also cold and distant with how disinterested both storyteller and listener are, and with that music: an interesting little critique of sexuality in society.  I was intrigued.

End intrigue.

Clearly, Godard’s challenging the viewer to care about “Week End”: utterly reprehensible protagonists encountering utterly reprehensible people and incidents on the road.  The world sucks, Godard seems to be telling us.  Everything about it is dog-eat-dog, and devotion to sex and material objects seems to be the culprit – according to Godard.  The problem is, Godard seems to think that rape, cannibalism, murder by arson, and car wrecks equal clever critique.  It’s overkill from the start, and in my eyes, this film was doomed from the start of that famous tracking shot of the traffic jam.  So what, an unending shot for 10-15 minutes showing every inch of a traffic jam, complete with drivers tossing beach balls around, and yelling at each other, and increasingly clever ways to show exasperated drivers and cars in positions they clearly weren’t built to be in, is supposed to be the be all and end all of skilled filmmaking?  Big fucking deal, any monkey can glide a camera down a dolly track for 15 minutes and tell extras when to act funny.  This wasn’t an impressive feat of single-shot filmmaking, it was an infuriating waste of time, every second of it punctuated by the sound of car horns (thank god I was watching the movie via headphones, so I could take them off after a while and prevent myself from going batshit crazy).  It’s Godard trying to get under your skin, and by god it worked, but I wasn’t mad about some cockamamie message he was trying to send about dehumanization or whatever (materialized through the long shot’s payoff when the gory cause of the traffic jam is finally – FINALLY – revealed), I was just plain ticked off that so much of my time was wasted watching and listening to one annoying as all fuck thing for SO much screentime.  Go ahead, tell me I’m an impatient, uninitiated filmwatcher who doesn’t get Godard’s subversive artistry and eye for unique cultural criticism, ‘cuz y’all can go fuck yourselves – this was just plain excessive and agonizing, for all the wrong reasons.

What follows is a series of episodes in which our repugnant protagonists pass the violent aftermaths of car wrecks left and right, as well as an increasingly bizarre cast of characters, from the gun-toting, sheep-materializing magician to the riddle-spouting couple seemingly out of a fairy tale to the activists who speak for each other to the forest-dwelling cannibals.  Clearly Godard’s trying to shock his audience with how reprehensible everybody behaves, from lighting people on fire to the man sitting back serenely as his wife is raped, to a carjacking-cum-stabbing, to fiery wrecks to cannibals killing pigs and chickens (animals were most certainly harmed in the making of this film) and making some random chick strip while frying an egg on her crotch or something, I dunno…and all the while that couple we follow, who in their own right wish for the death of her parents so they can inherit the money, and in the process murder each other, lament their most unusual situation and dryly observe how strange this movie they’re in is becoming (about the only joke in the film I actually liked).  The ultimate irony is that Godard’s trying to be utterly unpredictable and as shocking as possible in showing rape, bloody bodies and fiery car wrecks strewn across the road, murder, arson, and animal slaughter, but really it’s all quite predictable – pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  Pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  Pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  I get the feeling that all the terrible things we see happen in “Week End” that test the limits of what a film in 1967 could show you represents everything Godard himself wanted to do, but as a law-abiding citizen couldn’t, so he could only do it vicariously through cinema.  Alright, I get it, Godard really hates America and materialism and capitalism.  And nevermind that there’s no plot or that the film’s an incomprehensible mess, ‘cuz if done tastefully that’d be a good thing: a subversive, image-based critique of material excess and dehumanization.  And the idea of a wrecked-car-and-corpse-laden, neverending road representing a materialist dystopia is actually a fascinating one, but could’ve been, and has been, handled better. 

But “Week End” is utterly tasteless.  It’s bad enough Godard felt the need to interrupt everything for a 15 minute traffic jam where I had to press the mute button and start biting my fingernails impulsively, or have a couple of young idiots ‘speak for each other’, so that we just stare at an unmoving face for about 5-10 minutes each while the other, off-screen, recites some shit about African poverty or something that’s practically from a textbook.  That in and of itself is tasteless, and every single word of that scene went in one ear and out the other (if that’s Godard’s intention, to make fun of lecturing activists by employing lectures in all their maddeningly boring detail, then he succeeded, but…why?), but those images of destroyed cars and bodies, of cannibals and stabbings, of just-offscreen rape and murder by lighter, lacks a single miniscule crumb of what could be considered good taste.  When a filmmaker tries to disguise tasteless, hate-filled images as cynical criticism of society, and combines that with a maddeningly long tracking shot punctuated by a single sound more annoying than Lloyd’s most annoying sound in the world in “Dumb and Dumber,” and another maddeningly long tracking shot of some farm or something while some asshole plays the piano, as we travel across the entire lot back and forth at least a few times, and other long scenes of stylistic excess that give me the feeling that Godard’s jumping up and down begging you to pay attention to him the way a kid jumps up and down begging mom to look at the pretty picture he drew, the result is horrifying.  “Week End” is a collection of images that beg you to be repulsed and dare you to be titillated, but in short order it became so predictable, so unexpectedly formulaic for a film so non-reliant on a typical plot structure, that I sure as hell wasn’t titillated, but was repulsed – not by the materialistic and fetishistic society Godard’s apparently trying to lampoon, but by 1) how hateful his worldview seems to be, and 2) his stylistic eccentricities that once again went over my head and I had to disregard as overly-stylish, silly nonsense.  Yeah, society’s reliance on material objects sucks, but I at least try to have a somewhat positive worldview, and don’t see every materialist as a shrill, philosophy-spewing, gun-toting, wreckless pig deserving of and destined for either a car wreck or a horrifically gruesome death.  Fucking sue me.  Although, maybe my optimistic worldview is wrong, considering all the reviews I’ve read praising this as a subversive and important masterpiece, that infuriating traffic jam a brilliant piece of skilled filmmaking.  Give me a fucking break.  This was attention-craving, overly-stylized trash.

“Week End” so ridiculous and offensively nonsensical and BORING (traffic jam, the two men speaking for each other, just how plain predictable the formula is despite Godard trying to shock us with images…), that I hope, I pray, that this was some kind of very expensive, very long-thought out joke by Godard, the man who played subtle little jokes like the sudden spurts of violence in “Masculin féminin”, but is going for the full-on Aristocrats joke here.  I mean, this was a joke, right?  It has to be…after all, I just wrote the longest review I’ve written in a long, long time on a film I hated more than any other I’ve seen in an even longer time.  The joke’s on me.  I guess Godard succeeded in getting an extreme reaction from one more viewer after all.


2 comments so far

  1. Yeah on

    I just found week end to be BORING AS HELL.
    Nothing god damn happens fast enough, we get long scenes of boring dialogue about characters we’ve never met, from characters we don’t care about.

    The movie was 8 minutes in, I’d figured at least 20 had passed by that point. Everything is just SO. DAMN. SLOW.

  2. […] fades. Godard gleefully throws wrenches into how we perceive cinema, and it’s fitting that many viewers would take Week End as a personal […]

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