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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Godard's 1967 Film Week-End Will Light a Fire Beneath Complacent Occupiers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 12:00 PM

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You're stuck in traffic and you don't know why. In your mind, someone is to blame. After all, there must be some reason the traffic has slowed -- or stopped. The situation gives rise to a seething collective rage that is released only when the cars start moving again. When they do, and when you pass the cause of the stoppage -- say, a four-car pile-up that's left a few bloody corpses strewn across the road -- do you feel any guilt for your self-absorbed reaction to the traffic? Maybe. But you're more likely to just say, "Thank God it wasn't me."

Jean-Luc Godard's Week-End (1967) demonstrates and reflects the origins and consequences of this self-absorption. It's one of Godard's funniest movies, despite the black heart at its center. Godard's typically bleak view of the world is tempered here by comic set-pieces that look like his interpretation of Buster Keaton. Godard's ego is as central as ever, and for those who are irritated by the filmmaker's authorial intrusions, they will find those traits here in abundance. Still, Week-End, which screens starting Friday at the Castro Theatre, has an almost jovial inventiveness and energy about it that balances Godard's indulgent side nicely.

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In Week-End, an unhappily married couple has planned a drive into the country -- and each other's murder. Early on, they encounter an epic traffic jam. It's depicted in a seemingly unbroken tracking shot that lasts about eight minutes before reaching the tragic source of the congestion. This isn't the only vehicular conflagration in the movie; Godard weaponizes vehicles in Week-End, turning them into hurtling harbingers of imminent death, flame-throwing hulks that litter the roadways and eject bodies like Pez from skull-headed dispensers. Godard's cars and highways suggest humanity's brutal underpinnings: the tendency toward fierce competition and the dark side of the survival instinct.

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Toward the end of the film, characters devolve into an animalistic state. The depravity around them and the lack of civility or dependable morality has eroded their ability to function as part of a developed society.

Screening at the Castro this weekend is a new 35mm print of Week-End. The film's restoration (and forthcoming release on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection) comes at exactly the right time. There is no doubt that the social and political chaos that Godard was reacting to will resonate -- perhaps uncomfortably so -- with the Occupy-savvy audiences of 2012. The movement, of which the consistent criticism is a lack of purpose-driven focus, may find inspiration in Godard's technique, which combines blunt direct offensive and clever surgical precision.

Jean-Luc Godard's Week-End screens at the Castro Jan. 6-8. Admission is $7.50-$10.

Follow Casey Burchby and SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog on Twitter.

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Casey Burchby

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