In the world of cinema no one pushed the boundaries of the medium quite like Jean-Luc Godard. He was considered the most inventive filmmaker since Griffith, and he set the bar for experimentation so high that he himself has hard times reaching it again. The sixties were his golden age, and Weekend was his crowning achievement. It is the film that best expresses all his quirks and ideologies before turning too self-indulgent. It is a vicious attack on capitalism and Euro/American Imperialism centered on a greedy couple and a never-ending traffic jam.
Godard was one of five major critics-turned-directors from the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema. He was parallel with Francois Truffaut in terms of international popularity, slightly ahead of Jacques Rivette in terms of experimentation, and about even with Claude Chabrol in terms of productivity. Of the group, his films were by far the most political.
For Godard capitalism was the evil of the world, being wrought on unsuspecting cultures at the hands of American Imperialism. He radically opposed US involvement in Vietnam, as well as Frances participation in the war on Algeria. He was a Marxist, followed Mao, and generally spoke out against any foreign influence over any nation. Weekend was one of the first and still most successful times that this became center stage for one of his films.
Not to make things too easy though. He doesnt set the film up as a political forum. Instead it is a simple trip to the country that gets more and more absurd as the film progresses. It is safe to say that there is no real plot to the film. The series of events that occur just seem like a slight digression ultimately concluding in radical Maoist guerilla warfare fighting cannibals.
For Godard capitalism is death. It destroys national identities, exploits races, and imposes its will upon all. This concept of death equating capitalism is symbolized through automobiles, the ultimate symbol of Western, and capitalistic society. Not even the multi car pile up in Blues Brothers can compare with the amount of wrecked cars strewn about throughout the picture.
The film even begins with a discussion of an accident where seven people died. The married couple of the story each wish the other was involved in it. They consistently wish that either Corinnes (Mireille Darc) rich father or cruel mother were the victim of some horrible accident. For their love of his money they have poisoned his food every week for months.
Before the couple even set out for their routine trip to Corinnes parents there are two fights resulting from cars. The first takes place as Corinne and her lover are discussing a potential murder for her husband Roland (Jean Yanne). People down in the parking lot start honking their horns incessantly, and then we get a look at the action. Not in a typical dispute over a fender bender mind you, but a rather violent interaction. They swing chains and leave the instigator for dead. Corinne hardly notices, only saying she wishes it was Roland.
The other interaction involves Roland and Corinne, as they are about to leave. Roland backs into a neighbors car and gets in an argument with the whole family. Ironically the pestering kid who gets his mother is dressed as a Native American. Godard throws in an attempt by Roland to just through some money at him to shut up. The American imperialism has been commented and satirized for the first but not the last time in the film. Rather than hurt the woman as she comes out, they threaten her with spray paint to her designer dress. Not surprisingly though, that interaction ends with gunshots.
Godard next uses the country as his battleground, and this is where he predominantly stays for the rest of the picture. The first scene in the country is a ten-minute long take of a traffic jam. Godard is showing the invasion of unspoiled country by Western ideology and their products. Along the way are overturned cars, bored motorists playing volleyball, dead bodies, a sailboat, and a convenient Shell oil truck. Godard cuts the humor of the scene short with a blood bath at the end of the jam. The dead bodies are casualties of capitalism, and despite police officers directing traffic there is no ambulance.
In fact despite all the death and wrecked cars throughout the film, there is never an ambulance. Godard makes a point of showing us how desensitized towards violence society has become. People die every day at the hand of American forces. Godard uses the never-ending supply of casualties to comment on the war in Vietnam, as well as US and European involvement in Africa. The African garbage worker claims Africa suffered a form of Nazism at the hands of America, England, and France. Sometimes this is done via direct narratives, but throughout the film the body count represents our shrugging off of death. Godards use of inordinate amounts of blood, in a bright red color are a stab at the violent media televising war.
Godard makes this point even more clearly with his slaughtering of animals. No one watching the film seems to care how many dead bodies are lying about, and no one in the film pays any mind as well. Yet we only react to the murder of Corinnes mother when Godard cuts to a skinned rabbit being covered in blood. Likewise we dont seem to shocked at the raping cannibals, but have to look away when they show a pig and goose being slaughtered.
The married couple is more concerned with what the victims are wearing than whether they are still alive. Roland takes sport coats off of several dead men. When their own car is wrecked, Corinne is screaming over her Merdees handbag, not even asking if Roland or the people in the other two cars are alive.
Material possessions are the top priority for the couple throughout the film. The whole trip is motivated by an inheritance totaling fifty million francs. When the two are forced into giving a ride to the Exterminating Angel (a reference to Luis Bunuel), he promises them anything they want for a ride to London. Rather than an idealistic world peace or end to hunger they wish for a new Mercedes, an Eves St. Laurent evening dress, a Miami Beach hotel, to be a natural blonde, and a weekend with James Bond. Not surprising they get nothing but a rabbit under the glove compartment.
Godards stance on religion is mixed throughout. At times he does take the communist stance of religion being the opium of the masses. The Exterminating Angel claims to be the Son of God and thus God. He claims to be the offspring of a homosexual affair that the Lord had, saying Gods and old queer. He also reasons I am God because Im lazy. The couple refers to Jesus as a communist, and Christianity is defined as The refusal of self-knowledge, its the death of language.
The film itself is set up as a capitalist hell. Nothing goes right, everyone dies, and months go by without any change, perhaps another Bunuel reference. Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard set most of the film up in extremely long single shot scenes. It may seem at first to be Godard showing off his visual flair, but it becomes a metaphor for hell. The long takes arent hellish in nature, but their length is symbolic of eternity.
Money is the form of satire throughout Weekend. Godard even comments on the money required to make the film itself. The picture was a French-Italian co-production, and Godard shows the Italians in only one shot, casually passing by, with a comment from Corinne. Godard knows that even when a communist wants to make a movie he has to deal with big business.
Godards anti-American stance seemed quite harsh here. When Roland tries to get a ride, the driver asks if he would rather be screwed by Mao or Johnson. When Roland replies Johnson, the driver goes off calling him a Fascist. Godard seems to be linking America with Fascism, also evident from the earlier African Nazism comment.
Weekend remains one of Godards richest, and in my opinion best films. There is plenty more being said throughout the picture. He comments on film as an art, as well as literature, the state of modern music, and sentiments of racism. There are numerous talks about class society, including a title card saying Class Society. Yet at its heart it is a film brewing with contempt for all the negative aspects of capitalism, and the evils of a culture that wants what it doesnt need.