We actually saw Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, which is now out on DVD, during a trip to Copenhagen this summer. It was in a fine old theatre called the Grand Teatro, which retains a lot of the old ornate movie-palace quality even though it’s now carved up into a bunch of small screens. We had a snack in a bakery at the end of the street it’s on, sitting by the window, and we were facing a poster for Take this Waltz, which was also playing there. It struck me that the CN Tower on the poster looked much the same as the view of the CN Tower we have from our window, and I wondered how many people would ever encounter a movie poster that even slightly reproduces the view from their living room (of course, we can’t see Michelle Williams from our living room). And then the following day, we ran into someone from Toronto in the street – and not just anyone, someone with whom I’ve long maintained an elaborate feud, and who would thus constitute a bleak omen even if I ran into him here, let alone on a different continent. Fortunately, we left before things escalated further. (At least it was better than our last trip, to Ecuador, where we were robbed at knifepoint).
We saw Weekend because we maintain a sort of tradition of going to see a movie in every new foreign city whenever we can, and if it’s something slightly out of the mainstream, all the better. Weekend, an acclaimed British film about a short-lived love affair between two men, fitted the bill perfectly – I’d known about the movie for well over a year, and would certainly have gone to see it in Toronto if it had ever opened here. But it never did, despite the city’s supposed status as a major lover of cinema, and despite our prominent place on the Pride map. If you assume that Toronto should show the best films all the time, not just for one week a year, then Weekend is by no means the only disappointing case study. For example, the Belgian Dardenne brothers are among the few directors who’ve twice won the top award at Cannes, but their last film The Kid on the Bike never opened here. I was in Edmonton a few months ago, and it was even showing there – that’s how glaring an omission that was. Edmonton! (The film eventually turned up on the Movie Network schedule). It seems to me – maybe naively – that the Lightbox might have served to plug such gaps, but the schedule there (Stallone retrospectives, documentaries about sushi-makers) seems whimsical, to say the least.
Anyway, as I mentioned, Weekend is now out on DVD, on the Criterion Collection label. Here’s the summary from the Internet Movie Database: “After a drunken house party with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club. Just before closing time he picks up Glen but what's expected to be just a one-night stand becomes something else, something special.” That’s perfectly accurate, but the title already contains a premonition that this something special might not have a long duration – it can’t have, because in a couple of days’ time, Glen is moving to America. The film might thus at various points be seen as a modern gloss on David Lean’s Brief Encounter, even including the use of a railway station as a defining location.
The default state
In Lean’s film, the strictures were those of class and family and propriety, but Weekend is squarely about gay people and the price (this doesn’t seem to me like too loaded a term) of being gay – how it continues to demand a degree of conscious self-examination and positioning that being straight, the default state, just doesn’t. Both men engage in casual sex, but then try to formalize it after the fact – Russell keeps a detailed diary of all his encounters; Glen tapes interviews with his partners for some kind of undefined art project – and we realize how this reflects a broader necessity to redefine an environment that inherently isn’t theirs. Glen says he despises the conformity inherent in having a boyfriend or in gay marriage, as if appropriating hetero structures were inherently humiliating. Russell’s instincts are more domestic, viewing his home as a refuge from a world he says makes him feel as if he has indigestion. Early on he talks about his love of old things, musing on the vast history perhaps attached to an old cup he got from somewhere, and taking solace in the fact that he’s now the owner of it. The point might be that even if the past doesn’t belong to them, there’s at least hope of appropriating and remaking it.
Weekend has its share of contrivances, not least the unlikely artificiality of the entire situation, but they’re deployed here for radically different purposes than we’re used to. Near the end, Russell turns into the camera in response to some offscreen cat-calling, and his stare is scarily piercing, seeming to indict us as viewers: no matter how sympathetic we might have thought we were being, it’s not enough. Still, I don’t want to suggest the movie is some kind of tract – it’s carried along by terrific, unforced interactions and observations, not to mention large quantities of sex and drug-taking.
Talking about Nottingham
And also by a vivid portrayal of the city of Nottingham, where it’s set – seemingly a place where being openly gay is plausible, but risky. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever been to Nottingham, but if I have, it’s been spruced up a bit since then (I fleetingly felt quite jealous of their streetcars, or whatever they call them there). It was funny afterwards to be walking through Copenhagen talking about how Nottingham looked, but that’s how memorable cultural experiences are made, out of unlikely cross-pollination. If I’d seen Weekend in Toronto I would have admired it just as much, but it could never have seemed quite as special, if only because of my own bad habits. On vacation, I didn’t see another movie that week – the film was able to breathe and mature in my mind like wine, whereas back home it would have been fighting for space the next day with something else (this problem, obviously, gets ratcheted up to a delirious extent during the film festival, which is largely why I gave up on that altogether a few years ago).
For a tourist from Copenhagen visiting Canada, I guess it might work in reverse. Still, that seems to me like a neat expression of something to aspire to – to savour and relish our cultural experiences as though they took us to another country. Maybe it’s not really possible, although at times on that trip, it seemed anything was.