Sunday, October 16, 2011

WEEK END - Film Forum 10/12/11

And then there was WEEK END. I've never been a fan of Godard, his pretentious digs at cinematic conventions and social issues leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps if he was a tad more subtle, but he seems to revel in the sheer French-ness of creating a stink. While I can see where he influenced scads of future filmmakers and their use of the medium for artistic purposes and expression, that doesn't mean I or anyone else has to enjoy his films. Just because something was first doesn't make it good. Don't be a sucker by buying into the hype.

Following their surprise engagement of BAND OF OUTSIDERS, Godard's first film, back in September, Film Forum brought his controversial "classic" WEEK END to the venue for a scheduled two-week engagement. The professor of my Film Form Film Sense course showed the famous car crash tracking shot earlier this semester, so I thought it was time to revisit this film. The basic plot is this: two rich married assholes go on a drive to the country to visit the wife's dying father to see if they'll inherit any of his money. Along the way they encounter plentiful gory car crashes and a magician and his girlfriend who force them at gunpoint to drive in the opposite direction before getting into a crash themselves and wandering for days through the countryside. They set fire to Bronte, hear St. Just orate in a field, tag along with a piano player who performs on a farm, the wife is casually raped by the side of the road, murder a woman for her money, and are finally taken hostage by revolutionary guerrillas with a drummer and a cannibal chef at their camp.

Knowing the political background of France in the late 1960s would probably help your viewing of WEEK END immeasurably, but a film that requires homework beforehand is a chore to sit through. We can be on-board for the bizarre shenanigans that leads Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne participate in until the realization hits us: we hate this couple. What is the purpose of this film and its adventure? To experience Godard's political commentary through some kind of clothesline storyline? Essentially that's it. A pretty hard pill to swallow, if you ask me.

I should also add, who is white Godard to take it upon himself to speak for the disenfranchised African and Arab peoples? Two characters, one African, one Arab, show up on a truck that picks the couple up. Godard places one of them in front of the camera while the other indulges in a lengthy, monotonous diatribe. This happens not once, but twice, and stops the film dead in its tracks. It's as if Godard couldn't fit in his thoughts on this issue anywhere else and shoehorned it into a segment that feels sloppy and obvious. The film never recovers. Third cinema would tackle issues in nations dealing with exploitation and political unrest through the eyes and voices of those experiencing them. Godard, on his throne as one of Europe's most well-known directors, is merely exploiting these peoples and their conflicts under the guise of artistry.

Did I hate WEEK END? I find it hard to hate any film, really. The film has its moments of shock and awe, as I find is true with many Godard films. The ending, which I won't spoil, does offer a potent commentary on social and political cannibalism, but that topic is addressed more effectively in films like MACUNAIMA and HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN. Just do yourself a favor and watch the film's most famous scene. It doesn't spoil anything, frankly, but once you've seen this you've basically seen the whole film and what it's trying to say about the France of 1967.

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