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Godard’s 60s: Weekend

Godard's 60s: Weekend

The classic long take traffic jam that closes out the first act of Godard’s Weekend is so monumental that it’s been re-created in miniature by artists Jennifer & Kevin McCoy in their sculptural installation “Traffic 1: Our Second Date.” Notwithstanding the obvious question—who goes to see Weekend on only their second date?—the existence of this homage and its circulation within the art world speaks to the canonization irony that MJR highlighted in his terrific post on Les Carabiniers. The sequence is virtuoso filmmaking, obviously, but the film as a whole, in which a sparring bourgeois couple head out of the city for a few days and end up reinvented amidst a Marxist cannibalistic maelstrom pushes the bounds of all those categories usually in play in the “Great Film” selection process: good taste, palatable daring, the touch of an author. Weekend has none of these things, yet somehow it’s been, correctly, labeled amongst Godard’s best films. People actually claim to like it.

Maybe by the time it had hit screens in 1967 writers were ready for it—with seven years of consistently surprising detours and detournemonts from Godard under their belts, perhaps the playing field and vocabulary had effectively been expanded. The first time I saw Weekend, having only seen Breathless, was in one of those a freshman year film seminar classes, that, enslaved to theory over history, eschews attempting an overall look at cinema for cherry-picked selections that matched whatever idea was under discussion that particular session. Not a bad context in which to watch Weekend, a film that consistently wrestles with the baggage of all the films that had come before it—shedding, rediscovering, shedding again—under the lens of a mélange of contemporaneous ideas ending up simultaneously placeable on a trajectory and utterly lost outside of context. It’s barely a “movie,” as the term is commonly understood, yet is, at the same time, more “movie” than one is ever likely to absorb in one sitting. Fin du cinéma indeed.

Godard wasn’t right—movies kept going, but I certainly wasn’t the same. Ma fin du cinéma. Overstressed and underslept, I nodded off for a few minutes about three quarters of the way through and awoke to find our “protagonists” landed in Marxist summer camp with little rationale. Animal slaughter, talk of Potemkin on the radio, the constant threat of violence—it’s the similarly intoxicating flipside of the primeval forest idyll of Notre Musique (at that film’s end, I tensed up, expecting a repeat).

The second time I saw Weekend was the very next night—I watched it again hoping for answers only to find out that there weren’t any, and to learn under Godard’s brutal, yet still comic tutelage, that answers need not be all we seek in the cinema, and perhaps should be the least valued of all. Even as the man pushes his audience away, he’s still hoping to draw closer to them, better them. Weekend makes good on the special magic of Godard’s sixties: the inexorable, airtight dream logic that undergirds his “narratives,” the sense that anything can, might, and will happen is no stronger in any of his films from that decade. If I’ve sometimes wondered if this voluminous period sometimes grows a little samey, a little didactic (for that reason, there probably won’t be a Godard’s seventies retro anytime soon—Comment ca va?—anyone?), it’s films like Weekend and Contempt that remind why we should care about this filmmaker above so many others.

So, then, what is Weekend? The classic example of “counter cinema”? A Marxist deconstruction of a Rohmer-esque narrative gone spiraling into wonderland? Utter nonsense? Give it a try and find out. Happy weekend, everyone.

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