Criterion Discovery: Weekend
Weekend (Spine #622) is a 2011 romantic drama film directed by Andrew Haigh. At the time of its Criterion release, Weekend was only Haigh’s second feature film and is currently his only work to be inducted into the collection.
Weekend depicts the budding relationship between Russell and Glen (played by newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New), two very different gay British men who initially meet through a drunken hook up at a club which quickly develops into something more meaningful as they spend an intimate weekend together before Glen acts on his plan to leave the country.
The greatest strength of Weekend is that Haigh (who pulled double-duty as both writer and director) has a clear understanding that gay stories, in particular gay romances, cannot be told in the same way you would a straight story. Like it or not, there will always be the burden of representation hanging over this kind of story because that fact is that gay experiences are always going to be different from straight ones. The genius of Haigh’s film is the frank way that it approaches these experiences without shying away from the fear of prejudice and the loneliness and anxiety that come along with it. It is that specific kind of outsider feeling that only queer people,like the openly gay Andrew Haigh, could truly understand. The experiences are similar, what makes the difference is how people approach them. It’s evident in Weekend’s two leads. Russell is out to his circle of (straight) friends but remains coy about his romantic life, always keeping them at arm’s length. He’s conditioned himself to never discuss any intimate details for fear of making straight people feel awkward, a practice that is all too familiar. He’s not fully comfortable with his identity but has created a life that never requires him to leave his comfort zone.
Glen is very much the opposite. Glen is compelled to be out to everyone and in doing so in as confrontational as possible. He finds pride in his sexuality, lashing out at perceived insults and provoking more than a few arguments. Glen sees no reason to be bashful about his sexuality and is quick to vocalize this to anyone and everyone. Both Russell and Glen’s lives and ways of thinking are presented in the film as subtly melancholic, each isolating in it’s own way. At one point Glen asks Russell, “Are you happy?” to which Russell replies, “I’m fine.” Neither are exactly depressed but they’re certainly not entirely happy or satisfied. The majority of the film is spent with the two alone in Russell’s apartment, talking and learning about one another. In the small confines of the film and through its own modest ambitions, every point of discussion, whether personal or political, pleasant or depressing, comes across as revelatory. Though Weekend doesn’t present any easy ways out (there are no grand displays of undying romance found herein), these two men are, even through this short time together, able to help each other grow and maybe becoming one step closer to the true happiness they desire.
Weekend benefits greatly from the Criterion Collection’s usual high-definition video transfer. The original film was shot digitally on a micro-budget and, while it looked fine, the transfer brings the picture into much sharper focus. The colors pop more, there’s more depth in each frame, it allows for a greater appreciation of the film’s minimalist sensibilities. It really helps the documentarian style of the film come through. Of course, the Blu-Ray itself features a great deal of supplemental features. Many of your standard bonus features are there, including a series of interviews with Andrew Haigh, Tom Cullen, Chris New, and other crew members. These go far more in depth than expected, covering a wide range of topic from the broad (casting, production design, etc.) to the incredibly specific (the challenges of shooting the sex scenes). There is also on-set footage, scenes from Cullen and New’s auditions, a video essay from the set photographers. It is quite extensive. The only point of disappointment is the booklet which solely features an essay from film critic Dennis Lim. It’s a great essay, but the booklet is a tad sparse.
Weekend’s sensitive yet honest look at the complexities of modern day gay relationships makes for a deeply affecting romantic drama that will be remembered as a landmark in queer cinema and a stunning showcase for Andrew Haigh’s skills as a director.
Film Grade: A
Criterion Grade: A-