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Andrew Haigh Talks Weekend, A Perfectly Swell Gay Romance

by Anne Thompson
September 6, 2011 9:08 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

One of the breakout films from this year's SXSW (audience award) was Brit editor-writer-director Andrew Haigh's Weekend, a Nottingham love story that could reach out beyond gay audiences. It's about a closeted gay man (Tom Cullen) passing for straight with everyone in his life except his best friend.

He picks up a man in a bar (Chris New) and takes him home. The two men click, and start to fall in love--his lover is more sophisticated and openly gay, but unfortunately he is leaving town for a gig. This precipitates a long night of sex and debate; the two men have nothing to lose, and open their hearts in a way they might never have otherwise done.

The movie is exquisitely written, directed and acted in naturalistic, hand-held style on a shoestring. It's heartbreaking. Sundance Selects opens the romance on September 30 in NY and LA and in the UK in November (trailer and interview with Haigh below). And I'm not the only who loves it. When the Outfest jury gave the film its outstanding international dramatic feature award, they did so because it is:

“a touching, authentic portrayal of gay life as we truly experience it: not stylized, not glamorized, but heartfelt, perceptive and absorbingly real. From the first frame it manages to get beneath the artifice we are used to. In its own quiet, unflinching way it leaves you a little bit changed, and yet more yourself than you ever were.”

Here's A.O. Scott's snippet in the NYT:

“Weekend,” which chronicles the coupling and uncoupling of two young British men with similar facial hair, is a good example. At first Mr. Haigh’s approach to the story seems as aimless as his protagonist, Russell (Tom Cullen), who drifts through a pleasant, if melancholy, life of work, time with friends and semi-closeted sexuality. But after Russell meets Glen (Chris New), and as Mr. Haigh cuts between off-center close-ups in scenes that feel loose and unstructured, the film discovers strong, unexpected currents of emotion and captures, with uncanny sensitivity, the growing affection and self-awareness of his characters.

"I wanted people to realize that you could tell a story about two guys that is a universal story," says Haigh (Greek Pete), who cast the actors--one straight, one gay--who were best for the roles. "I hoped the audience would not just be gay people. I wanted a wider audience; what they like doesn't fit into gay stereotypes. I was very aware of this when I was writing the script. I wanted the themes to be resonant."

Haigh tried to avoid going too far with the sex: "I wanted it to feel realistic and didn't want to exploit the actors. I see the sex in the film as an integral part, the sex is no more important to them than the conversations. If you see explicit sex on film it will take you out of the film. It was a fine line. I knew I had to be honest. It was most important that they were into each other, you had to believe that. Just because I'm gay doesn't mean that I think about sex all the time. I have my life. The characters' concerns are obviously universal. They're still struggling to define themselves and find their place in the world."

Haigh insisted on making the movie cheaply and under the radar because he didn't want to have to listen to more people. "Things get watered down and diluted," he says. "If I'm honest, people will respond to that, even if they are uncomfortable, edgy or whatever. People will respond as long as it's truthful."

The film was shot in sequence in 17 days, so that the film's climactic endless night was shot until 4 AM when the actors were quite sleepy, and still in bad shape in the early morning as the sun was coming up. "That's when we shot, we made it a real situation, they were up a long time and tired. It helps to create that sense of authenticity. I feel like this relationship enabled each man to be himself, to work out what he wants in his life. Even if they can't be together, it changed dramatically their ability to be loving. They want the same things. They work out who am I? What do I want how do? It's a process of defining themselves and the world. At the end of film they are clearer about who they are and how to project that into the world."

Weekend is a romance for the ages, for you me and everyone we know.

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