Review by Jane Freebury
It’s some time into this remarkable film about a lived-in relationship that we actually find out what the couple who’ve been married for ever actually do. He’s a philosophy professor, she’s a teacher. Not that we couldn’t have guessed, but it says something about how irrelevant the trappings are in relationships. Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and his screenwriter collaborator Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) are trying here to get at where we live here with results that ring uncomfortably and pleasurably true.
Recent empty-nesters Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) travel to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in the city where they spent their honeymoon. Indeed, in the very same hotel, until Meg takes a turn over the decor—beige—and they veer off to an establishment they can ill afford. In no time at all it’s clear that the niggling and surface tensions mask deep underlying dissatisfaction that needs to be worked out. What better time than a romantic weekend set aside for rejuvenating the marriage?
The precise reasons for their marital difficulties are vague. Have they just been married too long? The film is not saying that either. Lack of physical intimacy is clearly one, brought to a head in a rare awkward scene when Meg gets into dominatrix mode in black stilettos.
If this were set back home in Britain, it could have been a tiresome domestic as Meg and Nick air mutual resentments then laugh them off, and bicker and make up. Sometimes you just want to look away, but the writing is so brilliant and the observations so acute that it’s impossible to. Besides, the Parisian ambience is a counterpoint to any of the gloom that Nick occasionally lets slip and it works on Meg, a fluent French speaker, like a tonic.
Who doesn’t love Paris? The city and its people float by, tantalising the senses and rich in cultural memory with its Haussmann facades, beckoning bistrots, and shimmering tower of light.
The turning point involves an old university friend of Nick’s, the unctuous Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), who has left his old life in New York behind and set up with a much younger new wife and entourage who idolise him. It’s a reality check, and the beauty of the moment is that it doesn’t resolve as it might be expected to. Like life.
That grand old cineaste, Jean-Luc Godard, made a film called Weekend in 1964, but the references imported here are largely from another of his films, like Bande à Part. It’s a bit on the self-conscious side, but at the same time the line dance at the end hints at new beginnings and other possibilities and leaves you with a spring in your step.
In a capsule: A terrific film about a couple who reach their 30th wedding anniversary. Sensitively observed, beautifully written and brought to life by very impressive performances.