Weekend (2011) tells the story of a chance encounter in a nightclub that leads to a memorable weekend shared between Russell and Glen, both searching for authenticity as they explain and explore their feelings to each other and their place in the outside world. A poignant and significant piece of filmmaking capturing Andrew Haigh’s distinct poetic style and evocative storytelling, represented by Tom Cullen (Russell) and Chris New’s (Glen) compatible bond that really emanates a realistic and relatable experience to the audience.
Directed, written, and even edited by just one man – Andrew Haigh – Weekend is a somber tale of the transitory relationship between the quiet Russell and artistic Glen over a couple of days. Featuring Haigh’s favoured time-constrained storyline, the audience has been granted a glimpse into two men’s relationship with each other as they interact, learn, grow, and feel so intensely that the viewer is caught up in the emotional hurricane almost immediately. By this, I am just referring to the similar feelings of intensity they both bring – the actual film itself is quiet, so peaceful and authentic that Weekend becomes a piece of filmmaking that resonates through each audience member.
Although the story is set over one weekend, there is no chaotic shift into a rushed situation when Glen and Russell meet, nor an unrealistic portrayal of a short relationship. The atmosphere of each scene remains tender and quiet throughout the whole film, allowing us a glimpse into the small bubble that engulfs the two characters, leaving the audience in the same bittersweet state as Russell and Glen during the final moments of the story. Their time is brief but, like this film, it will stay with them forever. Despite the fleeting time period, neither character’s development is cut short or hastened. Everything they do seems to naturally fall into place. The emotional growth and life experience they each gain from their time together is significant, and very relatable. No matter the similarities or differences between a viewer’s own experiences and the ones shown on-screen, the dialogue and acting is so authentic that it comes across as such an accessible form of poetry. The lack of non-diegetic music and inclusion of long takes with minimal editing really emphasises the genuineness of Russell and Glen’s interactions and glances. I believe anyone can watch or listen to this film and think, ‘yeah, I remember that’, due to the pureness of the acting that grounds it into reality. No matter whether the audience is straight or gay or between and beyond, the main characters communicate to you something poetic and evocative.
Tom Cullen (Russell) and Chris New (Glen) interact with each other using all the realistic nuances of actual conversation – hesitating and stammering draws the audience into this documentary-esque style of human interaction. It may have helped that Haigh picked the two leads based on the actors’ actual chemistry together, and shot the film mostly in chronological order. This is further exemplified by the film being shot on location in Nottingham and utilizing natural lighting, which adds to the authenticity of the entire film, by stripping it down to its most basic and organic form. However, just because the techniques used by Haigh and the cast creates a ‘basic’ story, visually and narratively, does not invalidate or reduce the emotional intensity of the on-screen relationship. The slow-pacing is balanced by the time constraint on Glen and Russell’s relationship; the lack of non-diegetic and even diegetic music is not missed as the two character’s fill the silence with contentious and prudent conversation; the intimacy shown by Russell and Glen is highlighted by the contrast between their relationship in public versus in private, which is further explored through their differing opinions on how gay people express their feelings.
I was worried at first that the occasionally cliché statements about these issues and opinions wouldn’t correlate with the overall natural vibe of Weekend, but in fact it is one of the reasons I believe this film to be accessible to a wide audience. I won’t go into detail, but having the characters explain their two opposing issues simply and plainly allows the viewer to recognise the problem whilst understanding it in connection to a beautifully expressed relationship between two gay men. The location and situation that Russell and Glen are in allows room to explore these topics and issues surrounding sexuality and how each character prefers to express themselves, with added arguments as to why that may or may not be morally right. The fictional characters have the foundation of a visually subtle film to make and discuss these points in a simple-to-understand way, to create an all-around engaging film.
Although I’ve made the point that this film has discourse that ‘any’ audience may understand, I’m not necessarily believing that everyone will like this film – for example, not everyone likes slow films full of dialogue – but I still stand by my belief that Weekend has dialogue and situations that people may find relatable or realistic in some way or another, and are basic enough to understand without losing the push to make you think in more depth about said dialogue. Even then, I’m sure you’ll still feel fullfilled if you just mute it and enjoy the appealing aesthetics produced by Andrew Haigh, but you’d be missing out on some relevant – even 8 years on – discussion of issues that gay people can face, in society and internally.