As research for a zombie flick I’m writing (ka-ching!), I decided to re-watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End (1967)… which is basically an arty French zombie-flick-without-zombies, in the sense that everyone ends up shooting and eating each other amongst the burned-out wreckage of broken cars, but it’s bad driving and bourgeois consumerism that provides the catalyst for this break down in “civilised” society, rather than the dead rising from their graves.
For those who don’t know, this critically acclaimed “new wave” classic stars Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc as ‘Roland’ and ‘Corinne’, a middle-class married couple who are both having secret affairs, while surreptitiously plotting to off their other halves. After a random prang in the car park of their apartment complex (which ends in shots being fired), they set out to visit Corinne’s ailing father at his house in the country, in the hope of securing a larger inheritance from him. Along the way they witness many bloody accidents, pick up poetic hijackers, and eventually get taken captive by a ruthless band of cannibalistic revolutionaries. To be honest, it’s rather hard to adequately summarise this film, since it’s really a series of darkly comic satirical sketches, technical stunts and didactic speeches, rather than a “narrative entertainment”, as such. In an accompanying interview, the film’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard (a frequent Godard collaborator), admits that the auteur’s work can often be quite “annoying” and “boring” in parts, but that it’s always redeemed by the flashes of genius that punctuate these fallow stretches. And I’d have to agree… even if I find myself preferring the work of a director like Joe Wright, who can marshal similarly startling symbolic imagery and aural flourishes, in the service of more traditional genre pieces.
Since ideas are really the main characters here, it’s hard to judge the actors’ performances by the usual yardstick… but apparently Darc had to endure a great deal of humiliation at the director’s hand, as he dreamed up degrading scenes for her to act out, simply to punish her for not being his first choice for the role! Is it ironic that a self-professed Marxist should make a film concerning exploitation and abuse, while simultaneously exploiting and abusing his own workers? Or is that simply par for the course? In a final act of chauvinistic indignity, I was saddened to see that the edition I own (released by Artificial Eye) comes with a Filmography section that lists the achievements of two men who had nothing to do with the film itself (Mike Figgis, who’s given a 23 minute-long featurette in which to brag about how clever he is for liking Godard’s work… and Colin MacCabe who interviewed Coutard), but totally overlooks the achievements of the leading actress! Apparently a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur and Commandeur of the Ordre national du Mérite doesn’t deserve even the briefest biog on their shiny disc! Sacre bleu!