Welcome to Godard 101, an unofficial and unaffiliated online undergraduate seminar where Ben and I take on the great man and his works, doing our best to understand how Jean-Luc got from there to here. First up, Ben and I took a look at Breathless, the film that, along with Francois Truffault's 400 Blows, blew the roof off the joint back in 1960, kicking off the Nouvelle Vague and recreating cinema. Pretty heady shit. Then, we reviewed A Woman is a Woman, which you can find here. This was followed with an examination ofTo Live Her Life, Contempt, The Little Soldier and Band of Outsiders. Most recently, we looked at Alphaville and I did a solo turn with A Married Woman and The Riflemen. Then Ben returned, and we took a look at Pierrot le Fou, Masculin Feminin and the last Godard-Karina collaboration, Made in USA. We followed this up with our review of what we consider the best of all Godard films from this period, Two or Things I Know About Her, and the followup to his masterpiece, a little scene but essential Godard called The Chinese. Rounding out the syllabus, is the final of the fifteen films Godard made in this, the most fertile period of his impressive career, a film that boldly proclaims that it is the End of Cinema. Godard 101 bids you adieu with the arrival of...
Week End (France, 1967, Godard)
Week End (France, 1967, Godard)
Well, I suppose there are blacker black comedies. But when you throw in the weirdness factor, the comedy in Week End is very black indeed. If I may craft a tag line from sources both anterior and posterior, it's Mad Max or Death Race 2000 as chanelled by Hieronymus Bosch.
That is, Bosch with a near pathological hatred for the middle class myth of freedom in the automobile. Week End is a full frontal attack on the French bourgeois take about getting your kicks on Route 66. There are test-drive harbingers of this in Crazy Pete, about which I could not refrain from calling slightly surreal and even Felliniesque. But Week End is sort of Satyricon. Satyricon not eight days a week, only on the week end, but a descent into hell nonetheless.
It's hell not below ground, on the surface, street level, the pavement. And in full daylight too. All the better to watch as the world goes from merely anti-social scrappiness to full-on anarcho-barbaric cannibalism. By the end of the film, The Lord of the Flies is looking like peace, order and good government. Of course, the most famous scene is earlier on when we're still being subjected to merely anti-social scrappiness, albeit with an already perverse degeneration of basic human decency. I have in mind the nearly 10 minute long continuing shot of the traffic jam on the rural road. Very cool. But this time out I was up to speed on the literary source material, "The Southern Thruway," one of the best short stories I have ever read.
As for the full-on anarcho-barbarism that ultimately arrives, go figure, but this is when the comedy really refuses to be misunderstood. It is so horrifically over the top yet cheesy in the extreme, the joke is made to measure for the critique of the lifestyle sold in every car commercial; and by association, the whole get-away-to-the-good-time-
party culture of greed. If I found it necessary to speak of surrealism when reviewing Crazy Pete, about Week End I have to say that it is most comprehensible to me as a work of dadaism.
I won't go so far as to say the Week End is a weak end to the first phase of his career, but after being so knocked out by both Two or Three Things I Know About Her and The Chinese, in my estimation it is lesser Godard. I will give it the back-handed compliment of an elitist, though. It is certainly the more popular picture. I say this even without knowing how the films fared at the box office upon release or how the critics judged them then or judge them now. Week End is much less intellectually verbose and features a fair amount of action-packed excitement. Plus it includes what is by far and away the most sexually titilating scene in a Godard movie so far. And even though the film is grim to the nth degree, alas, nihilism sells.
In regard to this, it cannot be overlooked that Week End is a very mean-spirited film. We can see in retrospect that compared to the authentically uncertain and complex self-examination of his previous two outings, Godard finished 1967 by picking what for him was an easy target. Having travelled so far from the apolitical, purely aesthetic shape-shifting of Breathless in 1959, eight tumultuous years later he not only believes he knows who his political enemies are - he's out to get them.
In Week End, violence is no longer a topic for theoretical discussion. The film is a kind of revenge fantasy. For every bomb dropped on the Vietnamese, there is in Week End a burning luxury vehicle built by the same military-industrial complex (including it's European satellites) that builds the bomber planes and tanks. If what's good for General Motors is good for America,Week End yells loud and clear that it's NOT good for General Motors. The crazy hippies-gone-ghoul out in the woods skinning everything alive are nothing more than the New Left self-destructing; torching this Cadillac owner and that Citroen owner in stupid sectarian Robin Hood bands of outsiders, when they should be getting together and burning down the system.