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British Film Review:
This week’s opening of the London Film Festival makes it a challenging one for any new release in the cinema. It would be all too easy for a film to be overshadowed, especially if it’s an unassuming piece about a late middle aged couple on a weekend break to Paris. But, if there’s any justice, that won’t happen to Roger Michell’s 'Le Week-end'.
Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) are celebrating their wedding anniversary and return to Paris, where they spent their honeymoon. They’re a very different couple from the newlyweds of 30 years ago and the break exposes all the frailties and strengths of their relationship as they try to work out what the future holds for them.
This is a deliciously wry portrait of long-standing relationships and, while it’s being marketed as a romantic comedy, it’s shot through with a thread of melancholy that is apparent from the opening music. We’re drip fed Nick and Meg’s story and each piece of information gives us fresh insight into the complexities of their marriage. He’s a lecturer at a former polytechnic, now university. She’s a teacher in a secondary school. Neither wants to be in their jobs any more: he’s been asked to retire, so has no choice. On the other hand, she’s decided she wants to leave but she doesn’t know what she wants to do next. They have several children, the eldest - described by his father as “a pothead living in a rat-infested house whose occupation is watching TV in the afternoon” – is clearly a source of huge disappointment. And he’s a drain on their finances as they paid for that house.
All of which gives writer Hanif Kureishi the opportunity to introduce a tart bitterness to his script, most of which comes from Duncan’s character. But he’s not relentless about it, allowing her also to show genuine warmth and affection towards a husband that still obviously adores her.
It’s also a perceptive look at later life – the physical limitations it brings, such as getting out of puff while tackling a long flight of steps, and the liberation that comes with losing any concerns about other people’s opinions of what you say and/or do.
Broadbent and Duncan deliver wonderfully nuanced performances. Their relationship hits peaks and troughs as we watch – one moment they're affectionate, the next she humiliates him, then he’s angry with her and so it goes. They are perfectly cast and wring every last implied look and gesture out of the script. Jeff Goldblum is just as impressive in a difficult part – a former pupil of Nick’s who’s sold out for a comfortable life and has become a media darling. And he knows he’s sold out, just as he knows he’s shallow. It’s a character that could have been intensely irritating, but that self-knowledge earns a grudging respect.
Paris in soft focus autumn looks wonderful – Michell couldn’t resist a touch of pathetic fallacy – and there’s nothing especially original or adventurous in the way the film is presented. But that’s fine. It allows the quality of the cast and the writing to shine through. And shine they do.
Le Week-End is released on DVD 10th February 2014
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