This past Wednesday I screened Andrew Haigh's WEEKEND for my HopeForFilm/Goldcrest Screening Series. It is a truly romantic film. It may be a gay love story, but in it's tale of a one night stand that could become something more, Haigh's has tapped into a longing and hope that I never feel in any corporate filmmaking and is entirely universal. It makes me wonder if when creators are forced to think first about the market, if their work will be deprived of love and romance.
When I select films for my screening series, I write a letter to everyone on my invite list trying to explain why I selected the film. This is that letter and why I think you should go see WEEKEND this very weekend.
Dear film fans,
What is romance really? Where does life differ from what the movies offer us? Can romance ever be depicted honestly on screen? If the screenwriter or director's hand is too obvious we see the mechanics of the film and it can't be trusted. Hollywood has relied for a century on the beauty and notoriety of its stars for audiences to make the leap. In the indie world, we rely often on the dialogue, the ideas, the wit to seduce us along with the characters. Sometimes I think it never is honest, but then sometimes a movie comes along and convinces me otherwise.
And what about sex? You can't really have honest romance in a contemporary film without also having sex portrayed on screen; it is part of the equation after all. How can sex be positioned in an honest way so that we don't feel taken out of the fiction we are following, and then start wondering what the filmmakers are really trying to say with the way they are portraying it. Representation and signification take away much of the immediacy, and thus the pleasure. I have given up hope that sex and cinema can truthfully collaborate more than once, but fortunately a film occasionally graces us and that proves it can be done.
At the end of the day, what I am talking about is the challenge of portraying emotional truth through physical action and the challenges of story construction on screen. And let me tell you, I know firsthand: it ain't easy.
It is so refreshing when a filmmaker seems to come out of nowhere, deprived of funding, working truly out of the system and off the grid, challenging themselves, the audience, even the entire system as it is currently structured and delivers something, that despite all the limits and challenges they faced, soars beyond what the corporate or government-supported industry is able to produce. Andrew Haigh has done that with his film WEEKEND. Don't be fooled, he may make it look easy, he may make it look simple, but this is not that at all. It is a work where everyone is working at their peak, sharing the vision, reaching and striving -- and hitting the mark.
Folks often say that a great deal of directing is casting (I don't fully agree with that) but clearly Andrew has benefited by his choices. The two leads are as natural in their roles as Haigh is in how he uses the camera. All throughout the movie,I forever believed I was watching life as it is led . I don't think this phenomenon is due just to the high level of acting or the precise casting. It comes from trust, and a three way trust at that: the director with his actors, the actors with their director, and the actors with each other. Whether it is a lack of judgement, or a clear-hearted love, an openness or an understanding, there is an incredible honesty happening between all up on the screen. When one recognizes it, one also recognizes how incredibly rare it is.
WEEKEND is the story of a one night stand that might grow into something more. It happens to also be a gay story, and one that doesn't shy away or try to play it straight. In doing so, not being shy about the people, the world, and what they do, Haigh aslo captures the depth of its story in a way everyone should be able to relate to. If life is often the challenge of reducing the space between who you want to be and who you are right now -- the gulf often between thought and expression -- then in choosing to have one character still not fully accepting who he really is, Haigh has tapped into the universality of the specific world he has chosen.
WEEKEND is nothing less than both challenging and refreshing cinema, and it is also a whole lot more.