The fourth feature collaboration between director Roger Michell and scenarist Hanif Kureishi continues their explorations of love in later life — and love of veteran British actors. “Le Week-End” stars Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as a sixtysomething academic duo who celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary by returning to the site of their honeymoon; Paris proves as romantic as ever, but this trip reveals both the deep bonds and the equally deep fissures in their relationship. Bittersweet, charming yet often very thorny, this display of keenly intelligent craftsmanship on all levels should appeal to the same mature audiences that embraced the creators’ 2006 “Venus.” Music Box plans a limited U.S. theatrical launch in February.
Things start on an off note — hardly the last — as Meg Burrows (Duncan), a woman of very definite opinions, summarily rejects the hotel they’ve booked. Assessing their room, she grumbles, “It’s … uh … beige,” as if that were a well-known universal violation of good taste. After a costly sight-seeing cab ride to buck up her spirits, she and hubby Nick (Broadbent) check into a doubtless wildly expensive but duly superior establishment and set about realizing their perfect City of Love weekend.
But love is hardly the only emotion between them. Nick tries to resuscitate their sex life in vain; though not averse to occasional, casual physical affection, Meg can turn cross and reject his touch by snapping, “It’s not love — it’s like being arrested.” He’s devoted enough to try overcoming almost any rejection, while she is innately dissatisfied, mercurial, restless. “You can’t not love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes” she says, “you” being very much a statement of self.
Although the two have reached what should be a comfortable near-retirement, things are unstable back home. A hapless grown son has just moved out with his wife and child, yet is already begging to be taken in again, something Meg adamantly opposes. Nick has bad news: Flippant advice he gave a student prompted her to file a formal complaint, and now he’s being forced into early retirement from his university professorship. Meg is sick of her own teaching job, and fancies drastic life changes as financially whimsical as her attitude toward credit-card charges in Paree. Nonetheless, they manage to enjoy the city and each other enormously at times, even when running out on an astronomical restaurant bill or visiting Samuel Beckett’s grave.
A chance encounter reunites Nick with American expat Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a writer who’s had all the fame, fortune and adventure that have eluded his former Cambridge classmate. The film reaches its emotional crescendo during a dinner-party sequence in which both leads have telling encounters with other guests — notably Nick’s with the host’s neglected son (Olly Alexander) from an abandoned first marriage, while secretly in the midst of possibly their most serious argument ever. Yet the public nadir they reach might just restore the Burrowses to each others’ good graces.
British stage, tube and film luminaries Duncan and Broadbent fully flesh out characters as familiar as they are complicated, while Goldblum gooses them (and the movie) with a delightful sketch of generous yet completely self-absorbed joie de vivre. A long way from the flashiness of such name-making early exercises as “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid,” Kureishi’s writing is insightful and precise here, though not immune to the occasional, useful shock tactic.
Michell handles all elements with restraint and panache, capturing some of Paris’ magic without resorting to tourist snaps amid a solid design/tech package. Highlighted soundtrack choices include a couple repeatedly heard cuts from English folkie icon Nick Drake.