Published on September 23rd, 2011 | by Padraic Coffey1
“No one’s going to come and see it because it’s about gay sex,” muses a character midway through Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. “The gays’ll only come because they want a glimpse… and they’ll be disappointed. But the straights won’t come because, well, it’s got nothing to do with their world.” Though ostensibly referring to an art project by gallery employee Glen (Chris New), this exchange could reflect Haigh’s own attitude in bringing such a clearly personal project to the bring screen. Masking its extremely modest budget (estimated at around £120,000) through beautifully shot digital cinematography, Weekend is a daring, exploitation-free examination of lifestyles which are visible but often misrepresented in contemporary British culture.
Russell (Tom Cullen) is a lifeguard whose sexual encounters are a means with which to fill the void left by a childhood in foster care. One Friday night he encounters Glen in a gay bar. Glen is, superficially, a polar opposite of Russell; opinionated and unabashed with his sexuality where Russell is reserved. Their tryst extends beyond a one-night-stand into spending the majority of the weekend together, before Glen departs for a two-year Art course in the United States. Plot summaries are effectively redundant with films like Weekend, which are driven not by incident but by character and tone.
The common cinematic trope of the perpetual gay social life is slated by Haigh. Glen may seem a relentlessly energetic character, championing gay rights and condemning lethargy among the LGBTQ community in England, yet his ‘art project’ is in many ways the mirror-image of Russell’s privately-kept journal: a method of cataloguing sexual encounters for a personal keepsake.
Haigh’s title may or may not be an homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film Weekend, though the jump-cuts which Godard popularised with his A Bout De Soufflé are certainly prevalent in early portions of the film. Stylistically, Weekend recalls another British film released almost simultaneously; Bean Wheatley’s Kill List, already on its way to becoming a cult horror favourite. Like Kill List, the film’s stark photography and lack of incidental music lend it a uniquely European tone. Had Steve McQueen been compelled to set his story of sex-addiction, Shame, in London as opposed to New York, the result could well have resembled Weekend, though Haigh’s film is finally much more optimistic than the former.
Haigh cut his teeth as assistant editor on Ridley Scott efforts Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, and frames several shots with an artistic eye, such as Russell surveying the deep end of a swimming pool, having initiated further contact with Glen via text message. If Glen is a character through which Haigh’s own attitudes to an overwhelmingly heterosexual culture are expressed, the director certainly makes no concessions to prudish audiences. In terms of explicitness, the sex scenes are at least the equal of any film concerning straight relationships to emerge in recent years, as are the frank discussions of sexuality throughout.
Finally, and frustratingly, Weekend runs out of steam before its brief running time is elapsed. Viewers may well end up glancing at their watch before the final, inevitable platform altercation. Nevertheless, there is much to be gleaned from Haigh’s film, not least the superb, naturalistic performances from Cullen and New. Their improvisation-heavy dialogues charmed moviegoers at the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, where Weekend collected the Audience Award for Emerging Visions. In 2012, it was added to the prestigious Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray.