Sure to gain a place next to pioneers of the genre like Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, "Weekend" marks a pivotal point in the development of the gay cinema. It's also the announcement of a strong authorial voice in director Andrew Haigh, who triumphs through the honesty, beauty, and striking social commentary in his second film.
Following Russell and Glen as they meet, hook up, have sex, and (most dangerously) have frank discussions, he turns a "been-there-done-that" setup into something fresh, invigorating, and perhaps even worthy of the ultimate compliment for a drama: It feels "real."
The morning after their first night together, Glen asks Russell to take part in his art project. He's asking the men he sees about their lives, their opinions on being gay in the contemporary world, the struggles they face, the way it interpolates with identity. Russell is hesitant, but "Weekend" begins to manifest itself as a cinematic adaptation of that baseline "art project." By giving these guys an excuse to talk openly about their desires, their lives, and the prejudices they encounter both real and perceived, it becomes the time capsule of today's gay lifestyle that Glen was looking for in the first place.
Andrew Haigh only intensifies that with his immediate photography, a combination of handheld and static digital shots that put you in the bedroom, right between Russell and Glen. There's no stately detachment, no pretentious cinematic vigor here. One could position "Weekend" (no relation to the 1967 Jean-Luc Godard masterpiece of the same title) as the most beautiful home movie ever shot.
He displays an ear for naturalistic dialogue and an honesty toward the many unsolvable ambiguities of life. He prefers eavesdropping on people asking questions to pontificating answers. Something tells me he'll become one of our premiere filmmakers, because he's so adept at capturing the sounds and struggles of real life as opposed to tones and feelings borrowed from other rote movies, regardless of the lifestyle he's studying.
Criterion has gone all-out with this premiere home video release; it's not often they attach their seal of approval to a recent release, but "Weekend" surely deserves the honor. Tellingly, they've packed it with extras that mirror the immediacy of the film: home video footage from the set, and off-the-cuff interviews, display the same frank treatment of sexuality and bitingly witty social observations that made the film such a standout.
Two short films from Haigh do a lot to shed light on his aesthetic aims. An interview with him about (specifically) the films graphic sex scenes opens the doors for audiences to understand what he was trying to do -- other than stimulate, of course.
An immediate landmark in the development of "queer cinema," "Weekend" will turn heads over its depiction of recreational sex and draw tears from its nakedly human depictions of the longing, regret, and self-doubt that come with it. This is a must-see.