Sunday, 4 September 2011

Weekend of simplicity

Andrew Haigh, the director of Weekend, is best known for his documentary Greek Pete, which took a very cleverly crafted dramatic spin on the life of a London rent boy. No wonder then there was a lot of anticipation in the UK before his latest feature hit our screens. The film has already gained the status of a masterpiece if we are to trust some of the critics writing from the other side of the pond. For example, Peter Knegt writes for a leading American indie website ( ) and placed Weekend on the list of the most anticipated films of autumn. Ever since the film won the Emerging Visions award at SXSW Festival in Texas earlier this year everyone seems to be ecstatic about this small budget British drama. 

So what’s the whole fuss really about? It is a (mainly) two-person drama about a couple of young men randomly meeting each other at a club and spending a weekend together before one of them ventures to take a job abroad. Russell, played by Tom Cullen, is a man with a difficult past who is searching for emotional attachment. Glen, played by Chris New, is an artist who sees himself as having a spontaneous and adventurous persona who does not want to get too close to another human being. The film’s premise and composition can be summarised in a couple of sentences and the director never attempts to make it any more complex than that. That simplicity of course has a certain charm and will definitely find its appeal in the eyes of wider audiences, boosting the film’s potential at the box office. But it also becomes a huge downside as far as storytelling is concerned.

Haigh drives a lot of inspiration from theatre, restricting the characters’ mobility to a very limited number of locations, casting two well-established theatre actors as his leads. That formula could work very beautifully on the big screen if it wasn’t for Haigh’s desire to cautiously control the story development. The arch feels very mechanical, almost sanitarily free of any sort of ambiguities, leading towards a very predictable climax. The dialogues however insightful in terms of character development never feel engaging enough or go beyond outcomes that can only be accurately described as banal. It is easy to predict that Glen’s cynicism will eventually change under Russell’s influence and Russell will learn how to accept his sexuality thanks to Glen’s unapologetic attitude towards life and other people.

With the film’s final sequence at a train station (the details of which I will not spoil, but these will be very easy to figure out based on what I already said about the film), it becomes quite easy to draw parallels between Haigh’s Weekend and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The director definitely aims for the same effect Linklater achieved with his drama. But while exchanging a heterosexual duo of Delpy and Hawk with two gay men, Haigh forgets that it takes a bit more than that to make his film worthwhile to those of us who want to take his film seriously. The titled weekend is a time frame which is meant to intensify the exchange between the characters - this has worked perfectly in Linklater's case when he gave his characters one single day for their romance to fully develop. But Before Sunrise wasn’t only about romance. The film captured something timeless, not only about the human condition and the way we perceive relationships, but it also captured the psyche of the period in which the film was made. Weekend fails in achieving the same effect. 

If Andrew Haigh wants to become another revolutionary of the Queer Cinema I would advise him to take lessons from the Canadian director Xavier Dolan or Sundance veteran Todd Haynes; Compelling cinema is made with soul and conviction – and not just a carefully calculated dramatic arch.