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Cornerhouse Pick of the Week: Le Week End

George is quite taken with Roger Mitchell’s romantic trip to Paris

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Paris, the romantic location, is no stranger to the wistful idealism of cinema. Through the eyes of a cinematic lens, it’s a location where every apartment overlooks the Eiffel Tower, the streets are paved with fantastic low-key restaurants, and the water supply must be pumped with aphrodisiacs only the French could understand. The material reality however, is that the city is a bugger to manoeuvre, the cost of anything could potentially bankrupt you, it’s very easy to fall over cobblestones, and, well, it’s full of the French. Navigating the poles of romantic idealism and bitter cynicism from too much bad experience is the 30 year wedding anniversary of Jim Broadbent’s Nic and Lindsay Duncan’s Meg. From the start the film gives a sense of a relationship with deep history, that these two know each other inside-out, have a working routine together, though their ties are getting strained. With this tension the film follows a movement where their relationship goes through several possible breaking points as we follow their romantic routines oscillating radically between ecstasy and anger; endearments and abuse.

If you are fed up of films which illustrate the ennui of bourgeoisie twilight years, this may sound dull and cliché. I thought I had that fatigue, but instead found myself irresistibly drawn into the possibilities of these characters. This is down mainly to the acting, where the central couple shine in their respective roles; Broadbent can summon a wave of pathos through listening to an MP3 of Bob Dylan, whilst Lindsay Duncan carries the weight of years of frustration through her telling bursts of vitriol and mischief. Supporting them, is Jeff Goldblum , who, in a marvellous feat manages to create the performance of a man who you would immediately want to punch in the face, but wouldn’t as the next thing he had to say would probably be pretty funny.

The navigation of emotional poles of experience in stressed situations punctuates the film’s narrative. The characters are burdened with a frustrated history that is reaching boiling point, yet there is a lot of love invested too, allowing the film to simmer things down and let matters settle with a delicate touch. This almost feels like Mike Leigh’s answer to Breaking Bad, where the explosive situations carry the weight of middle-class anger at failed opportunities and neglected desires. Yet instead of cooking crystal meth in New Mexico, there is a return to the graceful textures of Parisian romance, where a delightful ode to Godard’s Bande à part manages to evoke enough whimsy to keep you entranced with the possibilities of human vitality in Paris, and not angry at the bill it leaves at the end.