Saturday, December 13, 2008

Le Week-End

The first thing I did after I got done watching this film for the first time was to press rewind and immediately watch it again. I wasn't quite sure what I had seen and wanted to make sure I hadn't hallucinated it. Jean-Luc Godard's Le Week-End is ostensibly meant on one level to hold a mirror up to the face of society in order to show how vapid a bourgeois consumerist lifestyle is. I believe it functions on that level, but the question that always comes to mind is what good is a mirror that the majority of people wouldn't want to look into? Le Week-end is definitely not a movie for the consumers on a mass level. It seems a more effective route to take would be to make something that would appeal to a mass audience and load it with a subversive message. I think there is a certain amount of naïveté in making a film so anti-society. If Godard was really so disgusted with society, there are other ways to revolt instead of making a visually compelling film that is difficult to watch. Perhaps I'm making a generalization, but the kind of person who would go see a Godard film probably isn't coming from a bourgeois, white picket fence, 9 - 5 job with 2.3 kids background. In effect, it would seem that Godard is preaching to the converted. Someone who was really fed up with society could burn all their possessions and move off the grid to the Amazon basin where no trappings of society or the modern world have penetrated. But the downside to that is, if you're a cinephile, there's nowhere to watch movies. I imagine that, like myself, Monsieur Godard likes being able to wake up in a bed under a roof, take a hot shower, and walk on pavement to a café for a sandwich and a cup of coffee before spending an afternoon watching movies. That's not to say I discredit the message behind the film. A major part of Western culture is driven by consumerism, and the vast majority of it is for things that are inessential to our survival. Case in point, if we didn't need it, why would a company spend millions of dollars convincing you that you do? Godard touches on this earlier in films like Pierrot Le Fou, in the beginning scene when the partygoers conversations are just regurgitated advertising copy, but its taken to an extreme in Le Week-end. Godard equates consumerism with murder, as is evidenced in the scene where the pig is slaughtered. The vast majority of the population in Western nations are meat-eaters, but those who have actually slaughtered and processed an animal are greatly outnumbered by those who buy their meat in a plastic wrapped package in the grocery store. In the pig slaughtering scene, Godard makes it uncomfortably clear that that package of meat you buy at the grocery store was once walking around and had to be killed in order for it to make it to your table. I think that perhaps it would have been even more shocking had Godard used footage shot in an actual slaughterhouse, where thousands of animals are slaughtered every day in more horrific ways than the pig in this film was. I don't think the metaphor stops just with what we eat. Gas stations are frequent milieus in Godard films, and in the scene when the two garbagemen deliver their political monologues, he makes references to oil companies exploiting Africans. So essentially, anyone who has ever used gasoline has blood on their hands. I wonder if any of this is directed at himself though. Film crews take up a lot of gasoline and buy a lot of film stock and all are on a payroll, all of which are also taxed by government, so indirectly even this film buys into the very system that it rails against.

Godard makes some interesting use of the text intertitle shots in Le Week-end, my favorite being the shots where the sound of a speeding enging is heard as the screen shows the Km/h like a speedometer would, and the numbers rise with the pitch of the engine. The film starts with an intertitle proclaiming that it is a film found on a dumpsite. At the end we see one that proclaims that this is the "end of cinema". It would seem that Godard is equating cinema as just another disposable commodity, to be enjoyed for a couple hours and then thrown away. This idea is hardly revolutionary though. The Lumière brothers said as much in cinemas infancy, proclaiming to be an invention without a future, only then the movies were only a couple minutes in length as opposed to hours. I think there is another link between Godard and les frères Lumières in this film. Le Week-end has an element of what film theorists refer to as the "cinema of attraction", the era of film from its birth up to 1906. A short definition of cinema of attractions is that is a non-narrative cinema that produces a shock to the system, not unlike an amusement park ride. Although Le Week-end shows a progression from city life to an almost primitive, savage-like existence, there is only the faintest thread of a narrative structure. Corinne and Roland, a bourgeois married couple, are on the road from Paris. The only thread unifying the scenes is that they all contain husband and wife. The film is also filled with shocking bits of sex and violence. The sex is only hinted at in a long scene shot in one take but it alludes to group sex, lesbianism, and kinky sex acts involving whiskey, milk, and eggs, which even in the midst of the sexual revolution of the 60s must have made some filmgoers squeamish. The wife is describing the sex to her husband, who was not present during the sex acts, which may or may not have happened. They both seem very blasé about it, as if they were describing an everyday event like what they did at work the previous day. However, the violence is not alluded to. Godard shows in graphic detail bodies lying amongst twisted wreckage with copious amounts of blood.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote that every revolutionary is bound to become a heretic or an oppressor, and if that's the case I still can't figure out which side of the line Godard intended to come down on with this film.

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