Content warning for discussion of violence, including but not limited to sexual violence.
There is no word that captures the nature and subject of Jean-luc Godard’s film, Weekend, quite like bourgeoisie in both its French and Marxist connotations, embodying the dual nature of the film’s sense of cultural perspective, both a critical reflection on French social history, with an emphasis on the 1789 French Revolution and its key figures, and an expression of distinctly Marxist perspective on the nature of the French upper class as a culture and a position of social status. The French conception and term of bourgeoisie begins with a definition of “those who live in the borough,” the city rather than the countryside, the social class of powerful businessmen and their families that rose in conjunction with the emergence of urbanization and industrialization. This directly informs its development into the Marxist framework of the bourgeoisie as the upper class, a minority of the total population, that own and control the means of production, preserving the status of capital and property as social constructs, in order to maintain said socioeconomic control generationally and thus perpetually sustain their system of hierarchy over the far greater in number proletariat class. The bourgeoisie is defined by both its affluence and its opulence: the quality of affluence as the great excess of wealth and power brings with it the intrinsically tied cultural quality of opulence, sheer grandiosity of lifestyle creating inflated, all-consuming, delusional self-perspective, fueling empowerment over others based in willful disregard for potential consequence, for empathy, and most importantly for systems of law established in the first place by these individuals to maintain their own power, and the behavior resulting from all of this is so spectacularly excessive that it shatters the boundaries of civilization and logic itself. Weekend stylistically manifests its furiously critical and Marxist representation of the French bourgeoisie by a consistent disruption of cinematic convention and narrative structure that, together with the constant behaviors and attitudes of its protagonists, complete the depiction of the upper class inevitably collapsing in on itself, and society and reality along with it, under the weight of its own oppressive and absurd pretension. Each and every moment, every segment, every element of this film’s narrative and composition and style must be excessive, must be exaggerated, and must be drawn out beyond all reason, because it takes Godard’s vision of the nature of the wealthy and powerful to its logical conclusion.
Decadence, disdain, and cruelty, a perpetual state of utter myopia, disconnect from their own humanity via utter selfishness and self-absorption, are the fundamental nature of class structure and its ruling French elite that Godard portrays and skewers in the vicious and complex satire of Weekend. From the beginning, the film juxtaposes violence and chaos with mannered upper class lifestyle, defined in relation to each other as the upper class being above it all to the extent of true remove from humanity. The protagonists positioned on hillside balcony towering over the traffic-filled street in which its occupants argue and fight, with complete disregard for the well-being of both those they observe fighting in traffic below and for each other. Each member of the married couple casually conspires violence against each other, and together conspire against their parents simply for even more wealth. In the words of David Sterritt, “The first sounds evoke not the cozy routines of bourgeois living but the cacophony of modern society – the roar of traffic, the hum of conversation, the persistent ringing of a phone – in all its multitudinous complexity”.
After the notion of comfortable living is disposed of, so too is the audience expectation for common decency or manner between any of the film’s character, these immediate contrasts underlining how the film will continue to unfold going forward as the person-to-person inhumanity has a line of causational connection drawn directly from it to the larger breakdown of social order captured by the film’s narrative. The causal relationship is firmly established and demonstrated by the sequence that bridges the couple’s home life and the beginning of the fall of society as it interrupts their travels, the traffic jam sequence depicting the efforts by the rich to leave the city as violence is visited upon them, the jam ultimately caused by the first of many car wrecks that litter the film’s landscape that are a direct result of the bourgeoisie’s reckless disregard for those caught in their destructive path. The continued disregard for human life displayed by Roland and Corinne and their upper class brethren is framed as being met in kind by violent resistance by beats like the dialogue of one of the revolutionaries late in the film, “We can only overcome the horror of the bourgeoisie with even more horror,” evoking the words of avowed Marxist Bertolt Brecht, “Only violence helps where violence rules,” Brecht being a vital overall influence on the film’s social conscience, meta-textual elements, and stylistic choices.
Brecht was the key innovator in and practitioner of the highly political epic, or dialectical, theatre, in which a distancing tonal atmosphere removes the distraction of immersion, disrupting the audience complacency of fiction, and “turns the spectator into an observer, arouse his capacity for action, force him to take decisions,” by having confronted the audience with the reality of sociopolitical conditions of the world outside a fictional construct. Godard uses various methods to establish and maintain this same detached, absurdist tone: these include interruption of the narrative via the various intertitles featured throughout, asserting the main characters’ awareness that they themselves are living within a film and equally imaginary in nature as the subjects of their cruelty are, and direct allusions to other class-conscious cinema such as Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel and Sergei Eistenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, the latter of which was itself an influence upon Brecht.
The most important of Godard’s tools is his employment of long takes as a stylistic instrument for key scenes such as the aforementioned traffic jam, Corinne’s lengthy retelling of her decadent exploits with her extramarital lovers, or the couple’s hijacking of the car from the man in the phone booth. The camera remains at a distance and pushes relentlessly forward in each of the several long takes seamlessly cut together to continue for almost eight minutes, framing Roland and Corinne as secondary, sometimes even literally backgrounded or removed from view, to the series of escalating punchlines they maneuver around, leading into a singular ultimate conclusion for the audience: that this wealthy couple, their exploits, and the bourgeoisie that they and their peers represent, are horrifically callous and pitifully ridiculous cogs in the increasingly absurd machine of the world, in their suffering and their lives utterly unworthy of being taken seriously, except in two matters.
The first is their being along with the audience confronted by vital concerns in the Brechtian style, as it is briefly and eventually brought into their petty lives by the encounter with the two garbage collectors commenting on imperialism and revolution in Asia and Africa. The second is in the framework of their power dynamic with the working class individuals they encounter, what it reflects about the world, along with the cannibal radicals of the film’s climax and how the experience of complete upheaval in their power enacted by those radicals affects their lives differently. Roland for his efforts at escape is eventually killed and in the process provides one last distinct thematic image, and a form of justice to his wife in the uncertain time she has left; her capacity for acceptance of her changed station, rather than any sense of legitimate moral superiority, is what allows her to not only outlive him, but also to eat his body with abandon, in retribution for his non-intervention in her rape and in victory of their long-standing and increasing hatred for one another.
The subversive anti-cinema qualities of Weekend reach their own catharsis alongside Corinne’s with the film’s final epitaph: End of Cinema. This supposed end of cinema manifests in moments like the characters’ conversation about their own fictional nature and a salacious sex scene being rendered as an utterly and ultimately tedious monologue relayed in stillness and near darkness. It functions in conjunction with the sociopolitical themes by serving as a radicalized response to the role that filmmaking itself has in the class problems that Godard addresses, the capitalist system that filmmaking operates within, the bourgeois it both supports and creates with its influx of wealth and stardom, and the conservative ideologies that inform so much of the film industry’s output, within the film represented by cinematic conventions, the fourth wall, sensationalist expectations, and the visual dynamism, being disrupted by his choices. Its direct relationship to Godard outright abandoning narrative cinema for several years only heightens the impact of its meaning, and that points to what truly defines Godard’s Weekend and where its meaning lies: in the politics and the radicalism itself, just as Brecht would have seen it. There’s an incalculable weight to: “Marx didn’t say that. Some other communist said that. Jesus said that.”
This article originated as a 2017 college essay.
Works Cited: David Sterritt. The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible. Cambridge University Press, Aug. 13, 1999.
A whole lot of time and effort goes into making my work here possible. Please show your support however you can to help keep this going, whether that means sharing these articles wherever and to whomever there might be interest, or for those able to, donating to my Patreon dedicated specifically to these writings, which is linked here: https://www.patreon.com/lilytina
Thank you to Marcus TAC, Dramus18, Singing Brakeman, DW, Ninjaneer, and Prestidigitis, among others, for your financial support of this project. Thank you everyone for your reading!