Thursday, December 27, 2012

Weekend (1967): Godard's Road Rage Movie

Jean Luc Godard's 1967 road rage movie is a product of its time for sure, depicting a France which was just about to explode in the  évènements of 1968, and it's a wonderfully funny one. Godard made many movies from the mid 60's to the late 70's which the average viewer schooled in commercial cinema would find hard going: it's all Agitprop messages flashed onto the screen in Day-Glo red, white and blue, intercut with characters making 10-minute disquisitions on the state of the world. Weekend has some of these elements too but is far more fun. It's as if Godard, idly pondering on the coincidence of the name, had decided to make a film that was half Marxism and half the Marx brothers.

The characters in Weekend are all out of control, ruled by selfish greed. The sight of so much unchecked ego run riot makes for some hilarious moments. Right from the start we're shown normal middle class people getting into minor accidents and then attacking each other like violent thugs. The main characters are a husband and wife who prove that nasty, selfish yuppies were around a long time before the 80's and Patrick Bateman. They're trying to get to her parents' place; her father is about to die and they want to make sure they get a cut of his will. When they're too late and find out her mother intends to give them nothing, they simply murder her.

The France they travel through is a war zone of car crashes. Rich Parisian weekend vacationers deface the countryside with their presence and clash with the proletariat who live there, but the crashes are a way of checking the growth of the bourgeoisie, killing them off with their own creation, the automobile. The husband and wife ignore everything they see without scruple. Cyclists and other cars are run off the road without a thought. When a girl stops to hitch a lift the man gets out to examine her legs to see if she's sexy enough to bother about. In the film's famous traffic jam scene, they push their arrogant way past all the other vehicles, circus animals, picnickers, and so on, in one long, beautifully extended tracking shot, and when they get to the end and we see the grisly bodies laid out on the verge, this preposterous couple speed past without even a flicker of curiosity.

The film will stick in your head because of Raoul Coutard's crystal clear photography and the distinctive colour scheme of bright yellows, greens, blues and reds (witness the scene where the tractor and sports car drivers argue, for example). As for the politics, and the film's overall message, this is not a simple matter. There are so many things being said, and so many academic references are invoked; it's a very wordy film, as Godard films always are. Near the end- around about the time we get two garbage collectors giving long speeches on the state of the Arab world and black Africa in the face of white oppression, the film loses its humour ....and its audience. It's not that I disagree with Godard's views on the class war; it's just the way they're communicated is so dull after all the fun of the first two thirds. After that, the couple get picked up by some revolutionary cannibals and it's all polemics from then on in....There's not much to enjoy in this last half hour apart from the persistent catchy drum solo. But no matter, the film's already done more than enough to make it a classic.

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