Color, 2011, 97m.
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Tom Cullen, Chris New
Criterion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Peccadillo (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
After spending an evening with his friends, semi-closeted Russell (Cullen) heads out to a nearby gay bar where he drunkenly picks up Glen (New). The following morning, Glen, who is studying modern art and mounting an ambitious audio/visual project, pulls out a tape recorder and starts asking intimate questions about their past hours. They separate momentarily, but Russell decides to meet him again later that evening, feeling a worthwhile connection has been formed. Unfortunately Glen, who adamantly insists he doesn't want a relationship, tells him that's actually supposed to move to Portland, Oregon at the end of the weekend for up to two years, leaving them only a limited amount of time together. The remaining hours lead to conversation, bonding, and some personal awakenings that leave them both quite different and far more aware than when they met.
One of the more pleasant surprise indie hits of recent years, Weekend (no relation to the Jean-Luc Godard classic of the same title) belongs to that select company of breakthrough films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Beautiful Thing in which having gay protagonists had no adverse effect on its reception with audiences and critics. That's especially unusual since this one makes no attempt to softpedal the dialogue or physical interactions of its characters, with two superb lead performances and beautifully controlled direction creating a nascent love story as haunting and memorable as any seen in at least the last decade. On top of that the film also works as something of a survey of the conditions of gay life in the post-Massachusetts age, with witty chatter covering everything from marriage to public displays of affection to the pitfalls of creating a piece of gay-themed entertainment. There's also a bit of fun pop culture riffing, too, including a hilarious, sad, and weirdly empowering anecdote about the skinnydipping scene from A Room with a View. The idea to structure the film around an audio recording pays off powerfully, too, coming back at the end with full force after what was already a powerhouse climax at a train station. Brokeback Mountain may have had a bloodied shirt, but this ending may pack more of a wallop with some viewers thanks to an experience relatable to anyone with a little life experience under their belt, regardless of sexual orientation.
The first video edition of Weekend arrived in the UK from Peccadillo featuring some premiere footage, a batch of essentially raw interviews with the cast and crew (some of whom seemed oddly disengaged), the trailer, and a fascinating video essay of photos by set photographers Oisin Share and Colin Quinn along with (tinny-sounding) audio comments about the intimate shooting conditions and moments during filming they were glad they captured. That last extra carries over to the Criterion release (both Blu-ray and DVD), which otherwise cooks up a new slate of more precise and useful bonus features. The half-hour "Andrew Haigh's Weekend" features director Haigh (a former assistant editor who made his feature debut with the far less accessible Greek Pete), cinematographer Ula Pontikos, Cullen, New, and producer Tristan Goligher discussing the making of the film, covering their own backgrounds and experiences, the visual and acting decisions that informed the characters, the rationale behind a couple of scenes of drug use, and the benefits and drawbacks of shooting in frequently natural light.
An additional interview with Haigh focuses exclusively on the film's sex scenes (there's two, both well into the film and not particularly graphic compared to their straight counterparts); the most amusing and fascinating comments are easily his rationale for the film's most unexpected image of Cullen's post-coital belly. An eight-minute video of on-set footage shot mostly by New is a welcome addition as well, showing set ups for a few familiar scenes and, most entertainingly, showing the whole gang at the Nottingham Goose Fair. You also get an audition tape reel showing both of the leads trying out for their roles, with two tryout scenes contrasted with the end results in the actual film. (It's really odd seeing a more clean-shaven Cullen here doing the same lines.) The US trailer is also included along with a pair of Haigh short films, "Cahuenga Blvd." (2003) and "Five Miles Out" (2009), which combined anticipate some of the themes of this film; the former is essentially a brief (six-minute) bit of dramatic pillow talk between a boy and a girl, while the latter is a more melancholy and drawn-out example of landscape and atmosphere used to frame the story of two teenagers who stray to a rocky outcropping in the sea and have a big change in store for them. The liner notes booklet contains a lengthy essay by film critic Dennis Lim, who places the film in the context of both gay cinema (which he takes to task for not keeping up with the major social changes of recent years) and some analogous kitchen sink realism films from the UK and more recent kindred filmmakers in America. The transfer itself is essentially flawless, which isn't much of a surprise given the film's impressive digital lensing and sometimes striking color schemes. Likewise, the DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track sounds fine for a dialogue-driven film, with some bits of music (both ambient and folk/pop) occasionally infusing the soundtrack.