Week-End: The Chaotic Subconscious of France

2009 August 5
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by Zachary McCune
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Like Bunuel’s “Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” Godard’s “Weekend” parodies the middle class by subjecting them to the absurd. But where Bunuel’s bourgeoise characters consistently attempt to preserve their status and grace even in the face of trying social situations, Godard’s protagonists- an adulterous married couple- routinely fall into whatever social situation is demanded of them, even acting more uncivilized and impolite than the working class people they are frequently juxtaposed with.

Godard’s Rhetorical Impulse

In proper Godardian form, “Week-End” is a highly rhetorical film, politicizing the actual process of filmmaking with near-constant political manifestoes and debates being enacted through over-narration. One might say that in “Week-End,” the plot is hijacked by the politics, as the film’s basic premise- a bourgeoisie couple attempting to murder their parents for the inheritance- is overtaken by a series of political vinettes. Just as the bourgeoisie couple are literally taken prisoner by a number of figures in the film, so too is their primary storyline hijacked by God, Lewis Carroll, and anarchist cannibals. It is almost as though Godard’s film is a deconstruction of a the psychology of the bourgeoisie, as he first offers the Freudian reading of bourgeoisie parricide complexes, which might make a straightforward film, only to unravel this plot by subjecting to its political context. In “Week-End” the politics of contemporary France are always pushing back into the film, preventing the isolation and remoteness that the bourgeoisie protagonists desire.

The Chaotic Subconscious of France

Is the film only about class? No. It seems more fair to say that the film is about France, a meditation on the Gaullist regime. At one point in the film, Roland (the bourgeoisie husband) attempts to flag down a car on the road to Oinville. The car stops, but the passenger quizzes Roland about his politics before allowing him in:

“Who would you rather be screwed by: Mao or Johnson?”

“Johnson of course” Roland responds.

“Drive on,” the passenger replies, “he is a fascist.”

This dichotomy is historically the same decision that faced Gaul in 1967. France famously attempted to find a “third way,” which is what this film portrays, the way that is neither Mao nor Johnson. So the dichotomy presented to Roland is actually a false one- either answer is wrong. Roland cannot possibly pick a correct path, and so like France he must wander through the desparate plain.

A Long Lens into the Future

It is difficult not to read Week-End as a sign of things to come. While many films clamor for the title of ‘the foreshadowing of 1968,’ “Week-End” is possibly the most prescient. Not only does Godard recognize France’s impossible position between two options, but he also sees the chaotic elements swirling around France’s attempt at a third way. The spectres of “Week-End,” Lewis Carroll, anarchists, and a man pretending to be God, are all phantoms of 1968, influences or actual social groups that will emerge in the carnage of 1968. Additionally, the frequent scenes of burned out cars, chaotic highways, and deserted roadways prove to be a prescient image. One has to wonder how influential “Week-End” was to the vision of May 68. Wondering how to overthrow order, did the students and the communists remember these haunting scenes from “Week-End?”

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