Sometimes I get depressed at the state of the world, and I let my mind drift into horrible young-person angst about whether art is really meaningless and whether it has anything to say or any capacity to change us or the world around us. It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an arts student, or, I don’t know, young.
But then I see a film like Weekend, and everything makes sense again. The only way I can describe it is like a big, old-fashioned crush. I have a crush on this perfect piece of filmmaking – but unlike a fleeting teenage daydream, this is a film (a feeling) that will stay with me. It’s one of those rare, inexplicable, exhilarating moments when art – in whatever form – completely changes something in you, makes you feel different.
Maybe it seems hyperbolic because it’s such a simple little film – a one night stand on a Friday turns into a weekend of talking, sex, drug-taking, talking, sex and talking – but there is a magic in Andrew Haigh’s unpretentious, honest approach that will utterly draw you in. There is a languid rhythm to the editing and an overlapping of sound and image which gives bedroom conversation scenes a kind of poetry. Simple but innovative framing plays with space, drawing protagonists Russell and Glen together and then separating them again, and little repetitions subtly track the passing time of the weekend. This is one of the most gorgeously understated, imaginative, truthful pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.
There’s a moment near the beginning where Glen bemoans the fact that only gay people will come to see his art show, that the straights won’t be interested because “it’s got nothing to do with their world”. I imagined this reflected a certain fear on Haigh’s part that the same would go for his film – that Before Sunrisecould be a hit, but make the lovers the same gender and suddenly you alienate the majority of your audience. I hope it hasn’t been the case, because although issues of sexuality and identity come up with the characters’ politics, it’s so reductive to label this a ‘gay’ film. What does that actually say about it? Nothing. You wouldn’t call Before Sunrise a ‘straight’ film, because it doesn’t tell you anything. Besides which, and despite their similarities, the differences between the two films are about much more than the gender of the central couple.
Importantly, Weekend doesn’t have the romantic sights of Vienna as a backdrop, nor does it take place in London (the film was shot on location in Nottingham, not that you’d know if you didn’t live there – it took me a moment). Things happen outside the capital, people fall in love, they get drunk, they sleep together, they talk about things. Life goes on, and it’s not all about the Hollywood ending.