If there is one thing that Criterion is best at, it’s giving the film world brilliant releases surrounding the debut feature films of some of the most assured and interesting young voices that the film world has to offer. Be it their continuing relationship with the polarizing Wes Anderson, or their appreciation for the ‘voice of her generation’ Lena Dunham (including just about every bit of film the young filmmaker had shot up to the point of her debut Tiny Furniture inside of their DVD/Blu-ray) Criterion is back with yet another fresh young face, this time via what has become one of the most beloved indie darlings of the past few years.
After debuting at SXSW the debut feature from director Andrew Haigh became one of 2011’s most talked about features, and also one of its best received. Garnering more than its fair share of critical praise and appreciation, Weekend has not only become a milestone for the young filmmaker, but also for the LGBT film movement of which this is easily one of the biggest members. And with it Haigh has proven himself to be that movement’s biggest voice since, arguably, Derek Jarman.
In what can be best described as a modern-day Brief Encounter, Weekend follows the tale of two young men, and the repercussions that are felt following a one night stand. As the pair continue their weekend, they become truly inseparable, going to parties, out to clubs and ultimately sharing their most intimate of moments, all wrapped up in a neo-realist aesthetic that is as hard-hitting and emotionally devastating as any romantic drama, sexual orientation be damned.
The film stars newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New, both of whom are some of the most exciting young actors around. Both play extremely specific characters. Cullen’s Russell is an introvert of the highest regard, often extremely shy about both his sexual preference, and in meeting new people. More than comfortable keeping his distance, he plays as the extreme opposite of New’s Glen, a young man who is beyond comfortable in his own skin. Coming off of what is discovered to be a devastating break-up, he’s not quite on the hunt for a real relationship, but finds himself almost instantly connected to Russell. Uncomfortable with any form of intimacy, he ultimately finds a shoulder to lean on in his new main squeeze, making this an even harder relationship for him to be within, as come the weekend’s conclusion, he’ll be shipping off to Portland.
Their interchanges here make up the majority of the film, and are utterly breathtaking. With the emotional weight of a sack of anvils being dropped on your heart, the film will leave you smiling and ultimately an emotional wreck, and every emotion in between. Giving us extremely specific characters here only adds to its intimacy and emotional heft, as the film itself plays out as any relationship that this writer or anyone else may have. Inside of this specificity is an inherent relatability that makes the film nearly incomprehensibly weighty. And it’s these performances that truly aid in that.
However, it’s still very much Haigh’s film, and it is his voice that comes through loud and clear. Pairing the intimate moments within our leads homes with the jarring, disparate and voyeuristic moments of their interactions outside of their safety nets, the film’s visual style isn’t like anything we’ve seen. Very much influenced by modern British cinema, I’m thinking the films of Andrea Arnold must have played a large part in the inspiration for the visual style of this film, it’s vibrantly colored photography pairs beautifully with the Earthy richness that is inherent in the film’s narrative. Toss in a score that plays perfectly paired with the narrative, and you have a blending of performance, narrative and style that makes Weekend one of the very best films to hit Criterion from their partnership with IFC, possibly the best one that isn’t named Certified Copy.
The release from Criterion is also admittedly top notch. There is a roughly 30-minute retrospective about the making of the film featuring Haigh, his cast and his crew, and also roughly ten minutes of set footage shot by New himself. The transfer is great, not shocking given the recent source material, but what makes this release so damn good is that it also comes with two of Haigh’s shorts, Five Miles Out and Cahuenga BLVD. Both are really interesting, and give a great deal of context to a filmmaker whose career is only going to go up hill from here on out. Finally, the release is rounded out by a video essay from set photographers Oisin Share and Colin Quinn, and also an interview with Haigh discussing the shooting of the film’s sex scenes.
Simply, this is a brilliant film that is done justice wonderfully by Criterion. Now, excuse me. I’m going to go back to crying, as watching this film will leave any and all viewers in as emotionally distraught as they’ve ever been, it’s that damn good.