We all have different faces, different personas, different roles, different aspects of ourselves that we choose to share or withhold. In public we might project one image, and in private something else entirely. When free of judgment or scrutiny, when totally at ease and comfortable, we are able to let all pretenses go and simply be. Through a brief dalliance between two lovers, Andrew Haigh's 'Weekend' attempts to examine this precarious struggle between the public and private, and perhaps even find a way to reconcile the two. Intimate in both narrative and form, the director and performers engender a raw, sensitive, multifaceted portrayal of romance and homosexuality that hits upon universally relatable themes of longing and acceptance.
After a one-night stand, Russell and Glen (Tom Cullen and Chris New) decide to get to know one another. Over the course of a weekend the two bond through a series of conversations, outings, and intimate moments. As their feelings grow more intense, the lovers soon realize that their fleeting tryst might actually be the beginning of something much more meaningful. Unfortunately, Glen reveals an unexpected obstacle that could end their romance before it has a chance to fully blossom.
Avoiding typical dramatic beats, the narrative has a very naturalistic scope, focusing on everyday interactions and conversations. The story is essentially told from Russell's perspective, and as such we simply follow him throughout the weekend as he goes about his life. Various scenes depict him visiting friends, stopping by bars and clubs, going to work, and most importantly, interacting with Glen. Dialogue and emotions become the driving force of the film, and while there certainly are instances of conflict, they're mostly internal in nature.
By traditional standards, nothing terribly eventful happens, but the couple's various chats (often under the influence of some heavy recreational drug use) prove to be very insightful, offering a candid peek into the ups and downs that come with meeting someone new. The two men struggle with a variety of personal issues, and together they help each other find balance and support. This conversation heavy focus works very well, and for the most part the characters touch upon honest observations about life, love, and homosexuality. Admittedly, some discussions and interactions prove to be more interesting than others, but despite the heavily stripped-down narrative, the film remains engaging and at times quite captivating.
Carrying the majority of the runtime are relative newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New, who together create a totally believable and natural couple. Their two characters have very diverse personalities, and the actors play off each other perfectly. Russell repeatedly claims to be "out," but his reserved behavior and clear discomfort when showing affection in public tell a completely different tale. Cullen does a great job of portraying this complicated internal struggle, and adds layers of subtle nuance to his performance that keeps the character feeling genuine. As Glen, New is much more outgoing and playful, but beneath this extroverted surface is a closed off individual unable to get over the sting of his last break-up. The numerous scenes between the two men -- gradually showing them falling in love -- all ring true without a hint of contrivance. Their performances always feel real, and when coupled with the director's raw shooting style, they lend the movie a rare sense of verisimilitude.
Intimacy is a difficult concept to capture on film. In fact, by its very nature, cinema is counterintuitive to such an idea, for the sheer presence of a camera makes truly private moments nearly impossible to observe (unless those being watched are unaware). Still, despite these inherent limitations, Haigh manages to engender a very delicate, personal mood that feels remarkably authentic. The director and cinematographer use a fly-on-the-wall, almost verite style that relies on handheld movements, long takes, and slightly obstructed angles. Scenes will often briefly linger on seemingly unimportant images, drawing out the mood and atmosphere, and the uninterrupted sequences create a sense of stark realism that perfectly complements the naturalistic performances. Certain scenes even have a faintly voyeuristic quality, and there are times when one really does feel like they're intruding upon a genuinely private moment between two people.
The film deals heavily with struggles related to contemporary gay life, but this subject matter never restricts the movie's broader appeal. On the contrary, the issues the characters face end up touching upon deeper concepts dealing with personal acceptance, identity, and love that extend far beyond mere sexual orientation. With that said, sexuality does still have an important role to play in the film, and in the included special features the director discusses his desire to dispel common misconceptions about gay relationships. To this end, the movie does feature some rather frank sexual content, but the sex scenes really aren't graphic or sensationalized. They're sensitive, intimate, and honest.
'Weekend' offers a perceptive peek into the lives of two men who leave a very lasting impression on each other. Through their brief time together, they are able to grow as individuals, and perhaps even reconcile the conflicting sides of their own imperfect lives. Raw, sensual, and authentic, the movie weaves a gay romance that remains universally relatable while avoiding the types of clichés found in similar works. The conversation heavy focus and occasionally frank depiction of sex might not be for everyone, but those open to the subject matter will find a sensitive and insightful film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion presents 'Weekend' in their standard clear case with spine number 622. The BD-50 Region A disc comes packaged with a booklet featuring an essay by critic Dennis Lim.
The film is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the verite style perfectly suits the content, the low budget aesthetic and shooting methods do lead to some notable drawbacks.
According to the included booklet, the movie was primarily shot with a Canon 5D DSLR camera, and the resulting image does have certain inherent limitations. Noise is apparent throughout to varying degrees, but isn't particularly distracting. Other artifacts, including periodic aliasing and shimmering, are also visible, and while a bit annoying, they don't ruin the image. The most troublesome issue with the picture involves some faint but unsightly vertical banding lines that run through many scenes. Clarity is solid but inconsistent, with several shots looking a bit soft and others offering a sharp level of detail. Colors veer toward a slightly dull, naturalistic palette, but there are nice splashes of vibrancy in wardrobe and production design choices. Contrast can be a little on the low side with a fairly washed out look and blacks are a bit elevated and grey.
The movie's stripped-down visual style is artistically powerful, but the resulting image is limited by its low budget. Artifacts seemingly inherent to the consumer level shooting equipment used are noticeable, and the overall image has a comparatively low-grade look. Still, despite its underwhelming qualities, the shooting style complements the content wonderfully, and within the context of its production costs, the transfer is solid.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Surround track with optional English subtitles. While the video quality falters a bit due to the film's low budget, with the exception of a few issues, the audio is surprisingly immersive.
Dialogue carries nice fidelity, and unlike a few other 2.0 surround tracks that I've reviewed, speech is properly centered without bleeding to the other channels. With that said, the actors often speak in hushed tones, and their low, mumbled delivery can make it a little difficult to understand certain lines. Likewise, several scenes take place in noisy locations (a bar, fairground, etc.) where speech can get swallowed up by background effects. With that said, this seems to be partly intentional on the director's part, and it helps to engender a documentary-like level of authenticity. The soundstage itself is unexpectedly nuanced with very subtle but spacious aural dimension. Each location carries a delicate sense of natural atmosphere that softly spreads around the room. Imaging is smooth with effects (cars passing by, for example) and dialogue transitioning directionally between speakers when called for. Dynamic range is clean and wide, and there is some appropriately boomy bass activity during a few scenes set in packed clubs and bars, intentionally replicating the muddled low frequencies one would expect to hear.
Delicate but enveloping, the sound design is deceptively simple. There are some issues with dialogue getting swallowed up by effects or becoming a little boomy, but the important conversations are always clear and easy to understand.
Criterion has put together an informative collection of supplements including extensive interviews and some short films from the director. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and no subtitle options (unless noted otherwise).
'Weekend' is a sensitive, intimate film about a brief romance between two men. Through a fly-on-the-wall shooting style, the director creates a rare sense of authenticity, and the actors turn in remarkably natural performances. The video transfer suffers from a few notable drawbacks, but these issues are all inherent to the low budget equipment used. While the soft spoken dialogue can be a little hard to make out in isolated scenes, the audio mix is actually quite good. Supplements provide some nice insights into the production, rounding out a solid disc for a good film. Recommended.