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A supposedly idyllic weekend trip to the countryside turns into a never-ending nightmare of traffic jams, revolution, cannibalism and murder as French bourgeois society starts to collapse under the weight of its own consumer preoccupations Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The decline and fall of western civilisation, parts 5 to 10
This was the culmination of almost seven years of work for Godard; arriving at a point in which his command of the film-making process was at its most confident and his talent as both a satirist and a grand provocateur could be channelled into making his ultimate statement - about society, cinema and the future of both - in such a way as to act as the bridge between the work that came before, and the work that would eventually follow. With Week End (1967), the intention was to confront the audience with the ultimate depiction of bourgeois decadence in all its morally-bankrupt banality; extending on the ideas behind his previous film, the complicated 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) - in which prostitution was used as a metaphor for a vapid consumer society willing to confine itself to ineffective action, whilst simultaneously selling itself out for the comfort of life's little luxuries - and all the while creating a merciless parody of the decline of western civilisation in a way that seems frighteningly close to the world that we live in today.
Throughout the film, Godard maintains a tone that is both serious and sardonic; showing us the morally-bankrupt nature of these characters and the mechanisms of the society in which they exist, while simultaneously creating an almost apocalyptic depiction of the end of society brought down by selfishness, consumerism, cannibalism and more. Alongside these particular themes, Godard layers in rudiments of social satire, contemporary French politics, the air of revolution - as hinted towards in the preceding send-up of La Chinoise (1967) - and a less than subtle reliance on Marxist ideologies to tie the whole thing together. Combine these elements with the director's continually provocative approach to film-making - including his typically unconventional use of music, inter-titles, crash cuts, tracking shots, pop-art inspired iconography and jarringly beautiful primary colours, all tied together by the always polarising appropriation of Brecht - and you have a film that is nothing less than progressive, defiant and utterly unique. All of these devises are used to disorientate the audience in a way that makes the viewing of the film as uncomfortable as possible; as scenes drag on and on while the camera explores the often absurd and abstracted tableau of scenes and scenarios in a way that seems to assault the senses of those of us more familiar with the conventional (i.e. bland) films still being produced by Hollywood to this very day.
With this in mind, many approach Week End as anti-narrative film; somehow implying that the film lacks the required elements of plot or character. However, this simply isn't the case. Although it as a far removed from conventional cinema as you could possibly get, there is still a definite narrative to be followed here; with central characters, themes and the traditional idea of characters moving towards a certain set goal as the film progresses. However, there's no attempt to pander to the notions of genre or convention; with Godard instead using satire, allegory, metaphor, pastiche and deconstruction to create several separate avenues of interpretation that all lead back to the central comment on the nature of society in the year nineteen sixty seven. At the time of its release, Week End was seen as a stark comment on the way society was heading, and without question Godard was spot on in his depiction of a world sold out and cast adrift, consumed by consumption its very self and eventually reaching the point at which all forms of expression break down, and are replaced by barbaric savagery, cynicism and self-delusion.
You could argue that most viewers dislike the film simply because it challenges them to think carefully about their own actions and the way they live their lives; with Godard all the while offering his amusing, provocative and highly satirical condemnation of a vapid society, personified by the parasitic creation of Roland and Corrine, a couple so truly fuelled by consumption and greed that the plot itself practically hinges on the question of whether or not they would resort to killing an elderly relative simply for financial gain. Although heavily stylised and overblown for purposes of surrealist humour, Roland and Corrine offer a mirror image of contemporary society at its very worst; predicting a number of currently relevant notions such as the loss of tradition, honour, family and respect, as well as the ultimate destruction, disregard and dismissal of concepts such as art, culture and history. Look around you and you'll see the social relevance of Week End, not simply as a satirical piece, but as a work of pure, abstract prophesy. Society may not have descended to the level of cannibal revolutionaries in the literal sense; but in the regurgitation of violence, horror, sensationalism, scandal, greed and consumption we feed off the carcass of the twentieth century and continue to ask for more.
These themes are expressed in the form of an episodic road movie, continually stylised and colour coded in reference to the traditions of the French flag - with its noble references to liberty, equality and fraternity turned into purposely banal expressions of on-screen agitprop - with even the most profane elements of the plot captured with all the pastoral, idyllic warmth of a traditional picture postcard. The themes and ideas behind the film run so much deeper than this review could ever suggest, with Godard creating one of the most interesting, exciting and entirely radical films of this period. It is difficult and it does take work; however, the sheer weight of Godard's ideas, the intelligence of his vision and the relevance of his themes make it a more than worthwhile experience. Give it time, and you might realise that much of the film is satire at its most wicked. It's also a great deal of fun, and has a number of fantastic scenes that just get better and better with each consecutive viewing.
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