The following is a reprint of our review from SXSW.
Last year, Julio Medem’s “Room In Rome” was released. While there was a strong titillation factor implicit in the film’s erotic pairing of two would-be lesbians over the course of an extended lovemaking session, the film was an erotic but honest account of a wounded soul finding sanctuary in the arms of another. Sexuality faded into the background, and what was initially considered sensual was soon significantly weighty. The film, of course, never lost its flirt, its central healing occurring with a fourth-wall-breaking wink.
Initially, “Weekend” seems like the gay male corollary. Andrew Haigh’s directorial debut film follows Russell (Tom Cullen), an openly gay lifeguard who spends his days punching a clock and his nights touring the club circuit. When we meet him, it's in transit - he's quietly listening to the semi-drunken ramblings of friends and family at a warm get-together, smiling politely, his eyes glancing towards the exit.
Soon, he’s between the beats at a busy club, sipping drinks and glancing at scores of handsome men from across the dance floor. As neon comes over him, so too does Glen (Chris New), a shorter, more plucky-type. The two are immediately attractive together -- the darker Russell is moodier, more serious and, at-a-glance, more simple. His alpha-male looks to closely resemble those of El Hedi Ben Salem of “Ali: Fear Eats The Soul,” immediately defying the racial and masculine conventions of what a “gay leading man” should look like. The clean-shaven Glen, meanwhile, is like a younger, virile Tom Roth, all slanted angles and nervous chattiness, nearly dwarfed by Russell’s hirsute countenance.
Russell takes Glen home, and the attraction is undeniable. Clothing comes off, drugs are ingested, and the two of them wake in each others' sweat and stench. What starts out as a romantic moment, the two of them sharing the covers amidst fractured memories of the previous night, becomes something a bit unconventional. Glen is an artist, and his art project involves recording the immediate reactions of his lover from the previous night. As is, the tape represents a suave seduction tool, a way for Glen’s lovers to bare all for his discerning eye. But there’s also implicit sadness in the gesture -- if he were grilling all his past dalliances in such a manner, why would both parties distance themselves after their own brutal honesty? As Russell politely, then more-than-candidly, opens up about the previous night’s events, he’s also doing his part to dissuade Glen’s apparent insecurities. But it turns out, Glen isn’t forthcoming about his situation. At the close of the weekend, he is headed to the states to become an artist in America. At this point, “Weekend” becomes as chatty as one of its obvious inspirations, “Before Sunrise,” as the two trade stories about their experiences and dedicate the time to learning about each other in-depth.
What proves most provocative about “Weekend” isn’t the casual presentation of sex, but rather the idea that homosexuality, and to a lesser extent heterosexuality, is in and of itself a political act. Russell seems to tolerate his hetero co-workers spending their lunch break discussing vile fantasies of defiling women, but when Glen addresses the issue, clearly he views politics as a weapon, and the hetero-oversharing should only be greeted by more firepower of the homosexual persuasion. It’s these ideological conflicts that draws them together, creating a meaningful romantic relationship. Both parties seem aware there won’t be much interaction beyond the weekend, so they cram a month’s worth of affection into one small afternoon and morning. A moment when Glen pretends to be Russell’s disapproving father is unexpectedly touching and wonderfully kind in how it allows both men to exorcise certain demons.
Haigh has made a mostly-assured debut film. While it is shot in the flat digital style that disallows for real exploitation of the medium, it does increase the intimacy between the two characters, though that is nearly marred by a structural late-film misstep that ensconces “Weekend” within a predictable “doomed lovers” subgenre. Without affected pretense, the low-key “Weekend” has an unexpected power that unquestionably lingers. [B+]