“Love dies” Meg (Lindsay Duncan) exclaims after being accused of unfaithfulness by her husband of 30 years Nick (Jim Broadbent), who replies: “Only if you kill it” And who would know more about the longevity or expiration date of such powerful sentiment than a couple who knows each other to the most minimal pet peeves and still can be surprised, often negatively, by the other’s behaviors. Spending the weekend in the City of Love could either provoke a reassuring sense that they still need to be together or be a catalyst for the conclusion of their relationship. This is the premise of the elegantly funny and often-meditative Le Week-End directed by Roger Michell and written by Hanif Kureishi in what is the creators’ fourth collaboration.
As soon as the pair sets foot in Paris the bittersweet banter between the two exposes the crumbling state of their marriage. The trip’s purpose is to celebrate their anniversary, and in an effort to relive the magic Nick books a room in the same hotel as the first time they were there. Displeased by the establishment’s redecoration Meg refuses to stay there and recklessly decides on a luxurious suite they can’t afford. Nick gives in to keep his moody wife happy, but such splendid accommodations might simply not be enough. In a storytelling style that inevitably resembles Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, they walk along the Parisians streets looking for the perfect restaurants while dishing out their fears and aspirations that seem fading with the passing of time and the monotony of daily life.
Sex is out of the question despite Nick’s constant efforts. On the other hand, at times Meg appears certain on her resolution to get a divorce before submitting to the evident affection she still feels for her gray-haired husband. There is a strange kind of love here, but is tinted with the accumulating lost battles they both have endured and the uncertainty of what the future can still hold for them. Are they too old to change? Are they together because they are used to it and fear a new beginning? They are both teachers with greater unfulfilled artistic dreams, and in turn such regret becomes exponentially important as they look back at their journey together with profound melancholy and quiet sympathy. Nick and Meg would be lost without one another, and can’t figure out if this merits to be called love or if it's mutual pity.
In the midst of all their anxieties and feuds throughout the weekend, they run into one of Nick’s old friends, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a charismatic successful writer. His intellectual circle of friends will serve as added conflict-arousing device in the already complex failed romantic getaway. Lindsay Duncan is fantastic as the feisty, almost bipolar, woman who still wants more out of life and will settle for nothing less than ecstasy regardless of her partner’s shortcomings. Meg is selfish, dominating, and yet deeply insecure, the veteran actress plays her with outstanding nuance. Duncan’s character is so overpowering that it would seem she overshadows Broadbent, but it is thanks to the actor’s on point passiveness that they both can showcase their skills by means of a delicately written screenplay.
Michell and Kureishi have never set out to make spectacular films. They focus on crafting layered characters and then implanting those traits into the perfect actors to let the screenplay and the setting speak for themselves. This decaying love story that unfolds over a couple days in Paris is soothing, subtly comedic, and exquisitely put together. Le Week-End, like the finest wines, gets its strengths for the slow-simmered flavors developed by age, wisdom, and trial and error, which once in a while deliver the perfect combination of serendipitous luck and great ingredients. It is also – like wine- a labor of love.