Dir. Andrew Haigh
(2011, Not Rated, 97 min)
The UK drama Weekend joins a tradition of ships-passing-in-the-night romances that also includes Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and the great, under-watched In Search of a Midnight Kiss, which are about couples who forge brief, intimate bonds and then part ways for reasons of circumstance. A time limit raises the emotional stakes even as it lowers them; there’s no need to guard yourself from someone you will only know for a short time, yet there is also an urgency to make the most of it and a feeling of melancholy for what must inevitably end, so during that period the relationship burns hot and bright, but afterward it stays warmly lit in the embers of memory. I have never had such a relationship, though having seen such films I almost feel like I have, and I think I’d like to someday. It’s not exactly something you can plan for.
Russell (Tom Cullen) is a lifeguard at a public pool, and Glen (Chris New) works at an art gallery. They meet one night at a gay bar, get drunk, and have sex. Russell has no expectation of seeing Glen again; it’s not clear whether he’s ever been in a long-term relationship, but flings and one-night-stands seem to be his common practice. Glen was in a relationship at least once before but isn’t planning on one now; at the end of the weekend he’s leaving to study art in the United States.
After their first night together, Glen surprises Russell by asking him to recount their encounter on tape; he’s collecting confessionals for an art project intended to demystify gay sex. This odd request is indicative of the fundamental difference in their personalities that creates a push-and-pull tension between them. Glen had a negative coming-out experience as a teenager and has become bold and confrontational in regard to his sexuality. Russell was raised in foster care, didn’t have many close relationships growing up, and is uncomfortable sharing intimate details with anyone, even his closest friend. They challenge each other’s biases and assumptions, and many discussions end in an uneasy stalemate, but they come back for more because in their discomfort they’re forced to consider things about themselves they hadn’t before.
The film does not strain for psychological analysis. Russell’s aversion to public displays of affection doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of self-acceptance, and Glen’s avoidance of romance doesn’t necessarily mean he’s nursing a wounded heart. We can reach those conclusions if we like, but writer-director Andrew Haigh doesn’t lead us in any one direction or another. He seems more interested in the development of intimacy between them, how their seemingly incongruous experiences, expectations, and desires unexpectedly bond them. To call it a case of opposites-attract would be too simplistic, I think. Rather, their lives intersect at the right moment for them to provide what the other needs.
The film feels natural, as if captured spontaneously, but it’s also directed with measured focus, with simple camerawork that reveals without getting in the way. A great burden rests on the actors, who must perform what is for the most part a two-hander and convey the full development of a relationship over a very short period of time. They both succeed, especially Cullen, who has the more difficult role to play; Russell’s shyness requires Cullen to express a great deal internally, yet the performance is so lived-in we hardly notice him acting at all. The depth and complexity of these characters drew me in and left a strong impression, perhaps nearly as strong as the impression they leave on each other.