Surface Tension

A wide-screen, comic-book-styled allegory in which every juxtaposition of primary colors seems like an act of violence, Weekend depicts an affluent French society destroying itself in a frenzy of road rage and cannibalism. A married couple (played by the mid-'60s sex symbol Mireille Darc and the stolid Jean Yanne) drive halfway across the country to try to get the wife's mother to fork over the family fortune. The film opens with two implied sexual triangles. In a telephone conversation with his mistress, the husband assures the unseen woman that he plans to murder his wife as soon as she gets her inheritance. This is followed by a long monologue in which the wife describes in pornographic detail her participation in a threesome where (shades of Bataille) a raw egg and a saucer of milk are used as sex toys.

No sooner have the couple embarked on their journey than they are caught in an epic traffic jam. Accompanied by a cacophony of car horns, the camera tracks for 10 uninterrupted minutes alongside a highway filled with bumper-to-bumper stalled cars until it arrives at the cause of the tie-up: the twisted steel wreckage of a multiple-vehicle crash, dappled with blood and littered with body parts.

From here on, the film becomes more fragmented, violent, and grimly hilarious. Just as the roads are strewn with corpses and burning cars, the dialogue is littered with references to designer goods. The couple hitch a ride with a pianist, who sets up his instrument in a barnyard and proceeds to play Mozart. In a ludicrous parody of the product placement just then gaining a foothold in Hollywood movies, Godard has painted "Pianos Bechstein" in large white letters on the side of the concert grand.

Under the sheltering sky: Paul Bowles outside his Tangier home in Night Waltz
photo: Owsley Brown
Under the sheltering sky: Paul Bowles outside his Tangier home in Night Waltz

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Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles
Directed by Owsley Brown
Film Forum
Through January 9

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Walter Reade
January 5 through 11

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Having killed the wife's mother when she refuses to part with the money, the couple try to get home, only to become hopelessly lost in a countryside teeming with rapists, murderers, loquacious African Marxists, and cannibalistic revolutionary terrorists. The final image of the wife chewing on a bit of roasted human flesh that may have been carved from the body of her butchered husband still delivers the nasty frisson it did 30 years ago. Kinetic and cruel, Weekend is the film in which Godard really sticks it to narrative. Not only is it devoid of a single character anyone could care about, the fact that I've given away the ending doesn't matter a jot.

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