LeWeekEnd-posterThe depiction of love in movies often feels unfulfilling to the older movie-goer or anyone, for that matter, with true experiences in long-term relationships. Hollywood has a knack for making weddings part of the climax in films about relationships. Anyone who has had a wedding knows they are but a momentary blip in life. The real tricky part is capturing a semblance of the ever-complicating life shared between those who have been married.

Le Week-End director Roger Michell (the man behind both Notting Hill and The Mother) has many years exploring love in the movies. Armed with a screenplay by novelist Hanif Kureishi, he probably has not handled the subject more delicately or subtly until now. British couple Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) are looking to rekindle romance in Paris by returning for a weekend to stay at the hotel where they first spent their honeymoon, 30 years ago. She bounces between raging frustration with him and flighty spontaneity. He can hardly keep up and has his own quiet, sheepish frustration that he tends to keep bottled up. In one meek attempt to seduce her, Nick reaches out and she flinches. “Why won’t you ever let me touch you?” he says.

She responds, “It’s not love. It’s like being arrested.”

They fight and argue a lot from one scene to another. During many transitional edits, the film and, by association, the couple seem to reboot. Romantic jazz music, featuring stride piano and plucky acoustic guitar accompanies the fade-in to these new scenes. The two distinct instruments call and respond. It almost mirrors the to and fro of the couple’s often opposing perspectives. It’s not discordant, however. There’s harmony but also conflict with in these distinct characters (I’m referring to both the instruments and the couple). It’s a witty musical representation of the couple. It’s hard to note this jazzy score by Jeremy Sams and not allude to a comparison to Woody Allen’s work as a director, who also has long presented a fine-tuned concern of romantic relationships on the rocks.

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Another, more grim comparison could be to Before Midnight (Film review: ‘Before Midnight’ offers original glimpse of love evolved). With its extended scenes of sometimes passive-aggressive tension between its characters (when anger and resentments are not directly being flung at the other), Before Midnight can feel difficult to endure, as conversations spiral into full-blown operatic emotional battles. Le Week-End, on the other hand, knows how to keep the conflict in check with tidy scenes that build toward the fateful appearance of a third wheel played by an exuberant Jeff Goldblum. His character brings some refreshing perspective for not only Meg and Nick but also the viewer.

It could have been tiresome to just follow this antagonistic husband and wife for the entire film. Thankfully, Morgan appears to not only infuse some life into the film but also a deeper tragedy. Goldblum brings vibrant energy to Morgan, a former student of Nick’s who has had more success with his writing than his teacher. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????He also happens to live in Paris with a younger, pregnant wife. Though he seems to be doing well, he credits the dreary, serious Nick as an inspiration. “Over the years that I’ve sat at desks like this,” he says after inviting Nick into his fancy study overlooking the Eiffel Tower, “and in the times when I’ve tried to convince myself that I’ve had some kind of brain or just a little bit of rigor or integrity … I would think what would Nick Burroughs do now?” This weighs heavy on Nick, who happens to be a philosophy professor, not just as a compliment but a terrible burden of possibility.

Morgan has invited the couple to his spacious apartment for a dinner party with artists, writers, scholars— a veritable cornucopia of intelligentsia. But just when you think the director has inserted Morgan as some mirror character of possibilities, the film gifts us a confessional moment by Morgan to Nick. He says of his young wife, “She can’t see through me yet. I mean, she will,” Morgan says as he nervously chomps on an hors d’oeuvre, his eyes flitting about in a perfect Goldblumism.

Meanwhile, a younger Frenchman chats up Meg. With little to gain from this flirt, she quickly reveals her morose character, talking about her “fury, dissatisfaction and the clock ticking by.” But, oh, these French people. He’s still taken by her. “What a great thing,” he tells her with a pensive smile, “to be so attuned to your unhappiness.”

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Still, thirty years of marriage matters for something, and the film, for all its bitterness and conflict, also subtly reveals slight but precious moments shared by Meg and Nick. Though they never seem to notice it themselves, the partners reveal similar habits, like when they wipe their eyeglasses at the same time at the table with their dinner napkins. Thankfully, the director does not try to highlight these moments heavy-handedly.

Underneath the explosive bitterness, the big value of the smaller things shines through and ultimately bonds Meg and Nick, and it makes the film a much nicer pill to swallow than most such movies. For all its seeming indulgence in the misery of this couple, Le Week-End turns out to be a delightful film. Communication opens up, and as much as this couple pushes so hard to move forward during a time when they should be just settling in, it is indulging in a bit of nostalgia that always seems the best cure for them. That the film ends with an even grander and more resonant reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part than the delightful, though comparatively naïve Frances Ha, gives the film’s finale an extra punch. Fine, it’s work to make a long-lasting marriage work, but a bit of honesty to oneself and some confidence can go a long way to submit to the humbling power of a bond for a life shared together.

Hans Morgenstern

Le Week-End runs 93 minutes and is Rated R (mature language and sexual problems). Music Box Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It opens in South Florida on April 4, in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area at the Regal South Beach 18, AMC Sunset Place and The Classic Gateway Theatre. On April 18 it expands northward to West Palm Beach, at the Regal Shadowood, Living Room Theaters, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and Downtown Gardens/West Palm Beach. It already began playing in other parts of the U.S. and has more dates scheduled through May; visit the film’s official webpage and click on “theaters” for more screening dates.

Update: Le Week-End will enjoy a brief weekend run at the Bill Cosford Cinema, Friday, May 16 – Sunday, May 18. Screening details.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

The notion of love is a slippery thing, and the Deep Blue Sea, captures its elusive sensation with a visual patchwork of evocative and dramatic scenes that forgoes exaggerated set-ups like fancy weddings and over-the-top situations. Too often Hollywood celebrates contrived situations like the Vow* to conveniently tell a story of people in love. How about something more expressive, abstract and complex, like the sublime experience itself? Director Terence Davies subverts traditional storytelling with his latest and captures not just people in love, but people who love but never click. I’ll go out on a limb and say no one has done this better since Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love. By defying a straight forward narrative and working in expressive, almost photographic collage, Davies recreates something more beholden to a feeling than most films with lovers at its center.

We meet Hester (Rachel Weisz) at the height of her most passionate moment in love. She is about to kill herself. The viewer has to work to put the pieces together, as the situation leading up to this moment unfolds in a patchwork of flashbacks. In fact, a second viewing of the Deep Blue Sea will probably prove more satisfying than the first. Though the film has its dramatic moments, Davies’ loose, flowing work captures experience in retrospect, similar to our own recollection of jumbled memories. In effect, offering a more human connection to the audience better than a straight-up narrative would ever achieve.

The film opens with pure evocation. A simple blue light spreading over a dark screen, as if coming up from the dark depths of the ocean. As the credits unfold in simple, swelling white block letters, the blue light gradually emerges** Davies seems to be offering the abstract representation of love entering one’s life. It’s a minimalist version of how the world seems to feel a little brighter, more Technicolor, when a new love appears. Opening credits do matter (see yesterday’s review), and not enough filmmakers use them nowadays.

When the neighborhood Hester lives in fades in from the darkness of this opening sequence, it almost appears alien. A series of streaming lights from a tangle of weeds seem so unreal it may as well be fairies dancing out of the dark. As the filtered camera lens lethargically pans left, the title card “LONDON” appears, followed by “AROUND 1950,” as it becomes apparent that this is a late-night suburban street scene. The camera continues its sluggish movement into a window where Hester stands. There is a blue and gold tint to everything, giving the interior of Hester’s apartment an unreal glow. The camera does not follow her as she goes through the motions of preparing for her own demise. She closes the curtains, fade. She bolts the door, fade. She puts a towel at the bottom of the door, fade. And so forth. These are key moments, as if recalled, whatever footsteps in between forgotten to lost, superfluous time. Before she lies down, a diamond-shaped mirror with roses intricately painted on its surface catches her face. The reflection stands out among the busy detritus that fills the apartment. Already the consistently beautiful shots recall a sense of In the Mood For Love. Whoever is playing a violin during the accompanying score (Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 14”) is not holding back, as the stringed instrument seems to scream and howl after Hester turns on the gas, and the film fades to another time and another place.

Following another fade out, the tone of the images grow more subdued and flat, dominated by the plainness of brown and darkness. We see Hester again, dressed differently, sitting in a plush chair inside a study, half-smiling to her husband William (Simon Russell Beale), who sits behind a desk. When he is not looking, she tears up. We know she is not thinking of him during this attempt on her life. Fade. Hester is sitting outdoors on a patio bench, on a bright, sunny day. Everything shimmers in soft focus, and the scene seems dominated by an incandescent white. A debonair looking man, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, who recalls Michael Fassbender) smiles at her. We will later learn he becomes the man who has taken her heart.

More scenes unfold, jumping here and there through time and space. The link between them is a magnetism between the people or a pushing away. There are efficient moments of dialogue with little context. What provides more information comes from Davies’ visual prowess: the framed shots of Hester and Freddie, smiling at each other. He chatting close to her face, and she taking it in. Meanwhile, William and Hester walk separate ways and are never shot without something between them. The best obstacle being William’s mother (Barbara Jefford bringing on the mean old lady). On one of the few occasions the husband and wife face each other, it’s at a dinner table with the mother passive-aggressively offering such tidbits like “Beware of passion, Hester. It always leads to something ugly … A guarded enthusiasm is much safer.”

But would the film be more interesting taking a safe path? In the end, lust does die out, and Freddie becomes more than the cypher that wedged itself between the married couple. He is the product of war, a topic often explored by Davies. When we meet him early on, he talks of the “excitement and fear” of battle. “There is nothing like it,” he says. He will never find that kind of passion in this downtrodden wife, and the broken triangle, elegantly but tragically creeks forward. Mirrors often appear in the movie, a nice cinematic touch referring to false perceptions, and as the knots tangle and ultimately break, Davies dives in with unrelentingly gorgeous takes. The actors are captured at their most passionate moments. It’s not what they do, but how they do it. That simple early shot of Weisz in the study, turning a delicate, forced smile to quiet tears captures the profound sadness that is this tragic story.

The Deep Blue Sea is not a fun film, but it is an honest one… and beautifully shot. Davies, who happens to be a gay man raised in 1950s post-war England, captures not only this difficult form of love expertly but also the era. Love is a powerful feeling and few films can capture that power as well as this movie. Too often writers have to cook up stories that falsely try to represent the feeling. It’s a sublime experience that demands a sublime touch, you’ll find that in the Deep Blue Sea.

Hans Morgenstern

Trailer:

*Yes, I know the Vow is based on a true story, but leave it to Hollywood to adapt it into a movie. Plug in While You Were Sleeping, Serendipity or even the Twilight movies, whatever such dreck you like. It’s all the same.

**This can only look good from a high definition projector or, better still, 35mm. Considering the range of theaters where this film opens in limited release, on March 23, 35mm, might be an option. Below are the many theaters where it opens in the South Florida area. Check the film’s official site for other venues. The film opens wider on March 30.

The Deep Blue Sea is rated R, runs 98 min. It plays opens in South Florida Friday, Mar. 23 at an array of theaters, including:

Miami:  Miami Beach Cinematheque, UM’s Bill Cosford Cinema, AMC Aventura 24, AMC Sunset Place
Fort Lauderdale: The Classic Gateway Theatre, Boca Raton: Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood 16
Delray Beach: Movies of Delray, Regal Delray Lake Worth: Movies of Lake Worth,  Jupiter: Cobb Jupiter 18

If you are outside South Florida, the film’s national screening dates can be found here.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)