“You can’t not love and hate the same person,” says British sexagenarian Nick Burrows (Jim Broadbent), “usually within the space of five minutes, in my experience.” The sentiment is one Nick imparts to his wife, Meg (Lindsay Duncan), with whom he’s vacationing in Paris for the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary, and it encapsulates the way the lovely and unapologetic Le Week-End operates. Bound to draw countless comparisons to the highly similar Before Midnight, the film, which marks the fourth collaboration between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi, explores the bittersweet and largely unglamorized happenings of a long-term relationship, bringing to light, amid a jaunt in a foreign country, two lovers’ ingrained and shared understandings, whose specificity achieves a surprising universality. Finally free of a grown hanger-on of a son, the vacationing duo find their golden-year freedom stirring up fears of loss, identity, and inadequacy, and their rapport is a constant toggle between warm codependence and button-pushing spats. Both keenly calculated and flowing with offbeat, naturalistic detail, Kureishi’s jewel of a script reflects his sensibilities as a playwright, and like Before Midnight, Le Week-End often unfolds like filmic theater, with potential contrivances of language being transcended by its honesty and the ace actors tasked to relay it.
And yet, it’s also what isn’t said that reveals the details of Nick and Meg’s union. After booking a suite, at Meg’s request, in a tony hotel they can’t afford (she’s a modestly paid teacher; he’s a professor facing unemployment), Meg tells Nick of all the things she suddenly wants to do, like learn Italian to match her gorgeously fluent French, and he convincingly infers that she’s proposing a divorce. Cut to the next scene and the two are stealthily skipping the check, then running gleefully through the street like a pair of mischievous puppy-lovers. At night, while Meg sleeps, Nick relishes his time alone, making collages and listening to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” whose lyric “How does it feel…” is graciously cut short by the film, clipped before it proceeds with the dead-on inquiry “...to be on your own?” Then Meg wakes in panic, and after an evening of coyishly denying Nick’s sexual advances (“Just a sniff,” Nick beckons at Meg’s vagina in the film’s boldest age-defying moment), she breathes relief when she finds him, ignoring his response to her fears of his departure (“I thought that’s what you wanted,” Nick says).
All of this choreographed yet unaffectledly resonant emotional ping-ponging, which Broadbent and Duncan brilliantly, respectively play with boyish devotion and rich austerity, leads to a climactic dinner party at the home of Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a successful author and former Cambridge classmate of Nick’s, whom the Burrowses happen upon in what must be one of Goldblum’s greatest on-screen scenes. Roaming a marketplace while alternately shooting barbs and sharing compliments (“You make my blood boil like no one else,” Meg says; “That’s the sign of a deep connection!” Nick retorts), the couple encounters Morgan, who immediately waxes ecstatic like the planet’s most charismatic prick, lauding his long, lost peer and kissing Meg’s hand while extending, along with the party invitation, a seemingly boundless comic-snob demeanor (Goldblum wields Morgan’s overwrought words as sexily and effortlessly as he wears his designer clothes). Just before the party, Meg is at Nick’s throat over the accusation of a past affair, but as they enter, she begs him not to leave her side. He does, and the film uses the opportunity to give both partners glimpses of being unwed. Meg is hit on by a younger French intellectual, while Nick has a powwow with Morgan, who proves a horrifying reflection of what Nick’s life might be like without his wife, right down to unchecked open-mouth chewing, an act for which Meg often chides him.
The cautionary motives for these exchanges aren’t exactly subtle, and like Before Midnight, Le Week-End’s least effective scene involves a well-populated dinner table, where Nick’s gut-spilling speech about life, love, and work feels like forced catharsis—a place to which the movie was pushed instead of where it organically arrived. But such is the rare low in a dramedy that’s brimming with highs, and that thankfully breaks the streak of bad-to-worse films about and starring senior citizens. Following the woeful Morning Glory and Hyde Park on Hudson, Le Week-End is also a considerable rebound for Michell, who, working with French cinematographer Nathalie Durand, offers compositions that complement Nick and Meg’s perpetually two-sided bond. As the couple approaches a Parisian museum, snapping at each other while intermittently giggling, they’re dwarfed while the whole building is captured in wide shot, and promising sunlight beams in a corner as dead autumn leaves scurry across the ground. And at the party and also afterward, Michell lines the bottom of his frame with out-of-focus candle flames, which seem to symbolically evolve with Nick and Meg’s fluctuating love, capable of being snuffed at any moment while also refusing to burn out.