Mike Atkinson

Film preview: Weekend

Posted in film reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 31, 2011

(originally published in LeftLion)

Weekend is director Andrew Haigh’s second feature-length movie – his first being Greek Pete, a semi-fictionalised documentary about a year in the life of a rent boy. The emphasis on representing aspects of contemporary gay identity persists in Weekend, as does the raw, intimate, ultra-naturalistic approach – but here the characters and situations are, for all their true-to-life plausibility, entirely fictional.

The film was shot in Nottingham, and a large chunk of the action takes place inside one of the brutalist concrete apartment blocks which sit next to the Savoy Cinema in Lenton. Lingering – and surprisingly beautiful – exterior shots of the estate, which some out-of-towners might recognise from the 2007 Joy Division biopic Control, punctuate many of the scenes.

One of the flats belongs to Russell, a softly spoken and rather solitary man who works as an attendant at a swimming pool. It’s Friday night, and after spending an evening with his straight mates, Russell ends up taking a drunken detour to Propaganda, a large late-night gay bar in the Lace Market. Somehow or other, and it’s not made exactly clear how (although the courtship ritual does seem to involve a measure of pointed staring in the club bogs), he picks up a fit-looking stranger and brings him home for sex.

So far, so stock. But as the rest of the weekend progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that for Russell and his pick-up – an art gallery worker called Glen – this is to be no ordinary one-night stand. Initially, they don’t look like a promising match. Although Russell isn’t exactly closeted, he retains a cautious privacy as regards his sexuality. To out-and-proud Glen, this reads like a cop-out, and a cue for Glen to cast himself as something of a consciousness-raiser.  But it’s a fine line between consciousness-raising and condescension, and Glen’s tart little lectures do him no favours as a sympathetic character.  Neither does his scorn for the second-hand dowdiness of Russell’s flat – an old-lady sofa, a mug tree – although Russell provides a convincing aesthetic justification for his choices, and he’s hip enough to have a LeftLion sticker on his door (yay!) and John Grant’s album on his stereo.

Rather than going their separate ways after what could easily have been just a one-night stand, the couple start to hang out together. They meet Glen’s friends in another city centre bar, before heading for the Goose Fair and returning to Lenton. Spliffs are rolled, lines are snorted, sex is had, life stories are shared, and defences are lowered, revealing a more complex arrangement of strengths, weaknesses and interlocking emotional needs.

Although Nottingham audiences might be tempted to niggle at some of the geographical details – there’s no tram line between Derby Road and the Lace Market, for instance – what emerges is an arrestingly convincing exposition of human relationships, and a telling examination of contemporary gay life. The dialogue rings true, the lone sex scene is superbly well-drawn, and only the drug-taking fails to fully convince; Glen and Russell either have an abnormally high tolerance for consciousness-bending substances, or else they’ve been palmed off with Oxo cubes and chalk dust, and know no better.

Ahead of Weekend’s national release on Friday 4 November, Broadway are hosting a preview screening on Tuesday 1, followed by a Q&A with director Andrew Haigh and Gregory Woods, Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Nottingham Trent University.  The film has already been garlanded with awards in the US, where it emerged as the surprise hit of the SXSW Film Festival, and Stateside box-office takings have been hearteningly brisk. In the words of the New York Times, Haigh’s film is “perfectly realised – a bracing, present-tense exploration of sex, intimacy and love” – and LeftLion can only concur with its judgement.


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