Even for a fan of Jean-Luc Godard, the new wave, surrealism, and so on, Week End can be a hard film to enjoy. There are sequences that are hilarious and amazing, but for the most part Week End isn't meant to be loved. Week End is primarily an attack on the bourgeois, but more because the two stars fit into that class. It is more an attack on consumerism, which doesn't exclude the anti-capitalists. Godard isn't trying to make any friends here, starting out by announcing this is "a film found on a dump" and proceeding to try not to let any group, including the audience, escape his wrath.
Arguably there isn't one likeable character in Week End. Roland (Jean Yanne) & Corinne (Mireille Darc) are the worst because they want to get rid of her parents, fantasizing that they'll die in a crash every time they know they are going out. They then want to get rid of each other so they can keep all the inheritance money for themselves (they tell their lovers they'll share with them, but I'm not sure I believe it). However, everyone they run into is more than a bit wacky. At one point Roland complains as much saying, "What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people."
Week End was made at a time when many people felt the world was just about to change for the better. The civil rights movement was going on in America and the uprising of May '68 was just around the corner in France. Godard seems to be making the film for the disenchanted, but then refuses to meet their expectations. They can easily identify with the first 2/3 of the film, but then the revolution starts and it's nothing but complete devolution going all the way back to cannibalism. Citizens have seized control, but human nature remains unchanged. The have nots might be a little better because they appreciate Sergei Eisenstein, Nicholas Ray, and John Ford, but they are not portrayed as being any more noble or honorable. They are not banding together to create something better. Instead, the world becomes a far less systematic version of survival of the fittest. He who wields gun gets to act out their perversions and forms of torture.
Whether or not I'm supposed to enjoy it, I find it easy to recommend Week End and consider it one of the truly revolutionary films of the Novelle Vague. It is unpredictable, hilarious, outlandish, intellectual, inventive, challenging, loaded with images you don't get elsewhere, and still timely. It's a film of paradoxes, for everything there is to dislike there's also something to like.
I don't get the idea that Godard showed his true colors here. The Godard of Week End isn't much different than the one people loved from films like Breathless and Band of Outsiders. Godard had always described his characters as animals, what changed between the films were their habitats. Different circumstances and environments breeded different forms of delinquents, but if you look at Godard's early films there's usually a small group of selfish people that are "in love" and are capable of doing whatever it takes to benefit themselves. In the past, outside of Les Carabiniers which was his first flop but had his best attacks on human nature and motives, the people who like the other films but hate this one simply found it much easier to look past the flaws of the characters. The characters in those films had a lot of fun being themselves, and the audience shared their pleasure. Very little of Band of Outsiders, for instance, is actually about the crime. The caper "plot" is more like an aside until the last quarter of the film, and by that time we've enjoyed their rendition of The Madison so it's easier to look past the woman abuse.
There are two brilliant sequences early in the film. First, a scene of madcap consumerist war where Roland & Corinne have to deal with a little kid dressed up like an "Indian" before embarking on their trip. He shoots toy arrows at Roland and makes fun of his prizes, saying his car and his wife are worn out. Roland is so distracted he backs into the kid's mother's car, and instead of worrying about the damage he's caused he starts punting it for being in the way. The kid demands they exchange particulars, but Roland tries to scare him off yelling "I'll kick you in your particulars!" As the kid is bawling and his mom is just about to arrive, Roland tries to pay the kid to shut up so he can flee the scene but his mom screams out his license plate number so he stops. A skirmish ensues with Corinne holding so Roland can spray paint the kid's mother, but she escapes and fights back by hitting tennis balls at him.
Next, Roland & Corinne arrive at the back of a traffic jam. Unwilling to wait, they try using the left lane to skip ahead. What ensues is an incredible unbroken tracking shot of chaos and wreckage lasting ten minutes. Well, it's not quite unbroken in the film because Godard keeps throwing up intertitles, something he does way too often for way too little effect in Week End. What I like about the car wreck shot is Raoul Coutard has filmed it from a little ways back off the right side of the road. The left lane Roland is in the background and the movement of the shot doesn't match the fits and purges of their car. The shot instead looks as if it was filmed from another car that is trying to forge it's way ahead (though there is no traffic jam in the grass). Sometimes looking back other times forward, sometimes moving slowly other times stopping or bursting ahead, sometimes leading Roland's car sometimes following other times getting far enough away to lose site of it. Again, much of the excitement of Godard is that he's unpredictable. He hates repetition, so instead of being boring and doing things "the way they are supposed to be done" he shows a new way to do something.
People are so used to these traffic jams that they have amusing ways of passing the time, including sitting on the roof and tossing a ball back and forth and playing a board game in the road. What's more noticeable though is the things no one seems to care about. There are all kinds of cars that are turned over and dead or wounded people lying unattended on the side of the road, but people are also so used to these images they don't even notice. It's hard to find a move over the top outlandish satire than Week End. Even something like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers isn't quite as out there. No matter how many ways directors find to tell people not to take everything at face value, you'll still find people doing so as a way to blame them for what they are in fact criticizing.
The example of no one caring about the dead bodies is actually pretty believable for the future when you consider people don't really react to what they believe is "right" or "wrong", but what is "acceptable" or "unacceptable". The difference being the later removes any moral judgement and justifies anything with lines like "that's the way it is." Extreme situations are created for the film because the current ones are taken for granted, but at some point the current situation was considered inconceivable. When Week End was made no one would have believed that within 30 years America would have created a society where athletes believe they have to destroy their future health by using products to pump them up (if you think the danger is overrated take a look at how many 1980's WWF wrestlers are still alive) and female entertainers believe they need cancer sacks in their chest.
I always enjoy Godard's gags about the things in movies we just accept. Product placement was just beginning to rear it's ugly head, so during the scene where the pianist (Paul Gegauff) is playing Mozart's sonata K. 576 Godard makes it impossible not to notice the advertisement. PIANOS BECHSTEIN painted on the side of the piano is giant white letters.
During the early scene where we find out Corinne is also cheating on her husband her long graphic menage-a-trois description (another thing no one would have believed when Week End was made is that women chopping themselves so they look like they aren't even mature enough to join the Girl Scouts would supposedly be sexy) is often drowned out by the music. I thought by having the soundtrack be as obnoxious as possible, essentially screaming "here's some phony TENSION" Godard was pointing out how we are so often manipulated without even being conscious of it. However, later on I realized this was a joke on censorship with Godard blaring the music to drown out the vulgar names of acts and body parts then cutting it completely during the parts that weren't obviously sexual to show how much the censors alter the meaning. There's also a joke on nudity not being allowed in American films with Corinne taking a bath next to a topless painting, the painting being okay because it's art but Coutard having to frame the shot so Darc's breasts never appear.
As always, Godard makes as many references as he can to whatever he likes, regardless of how many viewers might be familiar with it. The great Luis Bunuel seems Godard's primary inspiration for Week End, so Roland & Corinne wind up being forced to give a guy that calls himself The Exterminating Angel a ride. Of course, The Exterminating Angel was a 1962 satire by Bunuel, and it comes as close as any film to sharing the themes of Week End with it's depiction of decadence leading to a societal collapse that results in people living like animals. In Week End the angel promises to grant Roland & Corinne's wishes in exchange for the ride, but when he finds out they can't come up with anything more worthwhile than a flashy car, overrated hair color, and a weekend with James Bond he calls them creeps and refuses.
Granted I identify with the pre revolution stuff a lot more, but I find the end to be, well, rather weak. Godard shows some images we rarely if ever had seen before. Whether we needed to see them could be debated, but I just don't see the same energy and creativity there. Whether you like Godard's message that people put money over everything and thus devalue more important things like the value of human life and the rights of others, from a cinematic standpoint you can't deny the quality of the traffic jam sequence. To me, the last really good segment is his tribute to Hitchcock where Corinne killing her mother is an outdoor variation of the famous shower scene murder in Psycho. Roland & Corinne believe they've found the perfect murder, they can put her body in with one of the preexisting car wrecks and set it ablaze.