Andrew Haigh’s sophomore effort explores sex and relationships in a refreshingly frank two-hander about contemporary gay life in the UK.
“You become this blank canvas,” explains Glen (Chris New), on the act of sleeping with someone new. “It gives you an opportunity to project onto that canvas who you want to be.” The “gap” that opens up in between is where auteur Andrew Haigh sets his second film, Weekend. Taking a leaf out of time-limited films like Before Sunrise, Haigh explores the idea of sex and love, in that order, something that contemporary romantic films of any genre have trouble reconciling with Hollywood mores.
After a drunken party at a mate’s place, Russell (Tom Cullen) heads to a gay night club where he meets and goes home with Glen. What they both expected to be a one-night stand develops into something more, but this is not an immediate revelation. On the premise of Glen’s art project, in which he asks gay men to talk frankly about sex, the two begin a weekend of talk, sex, drugs and more importantly, conversations that reveal just as much about their own fear and anxieties as their own search for an important relationship in their lives.
Where recent more high-profile films have depicted more confrontational hate crimes or even a courtroom-like speech to hammer home their points, Haigh’s Weekend concentrates on the drama of the discussion between the two fledgling lovers. Indeed, with the exception of a fairly rational drunken conversation in a pub, both instances of abuse are heard off screen. Russell is uncomfortable with his own sexuality, and while he is not closeted, there is an emotional distance he has created for himself to the point that he doesn’t seem to enjoy sex without love.
The drama comes from Glen being ostensibly his opposite number, a hedonist who says he doesn’t want or need a boyfriend. The truth for both men is that aforementioned “gap” in between, what Glen describes as the space “between who you want to be and who you really are”. Both Glen and Russell desire not just each other, but to take on aspects each other’s personality. Through them, we are only given the promise of a future, but Weekend has no easy answers to help that future along on its way.
In this sense, Weekend is the most unabashed love story in recent memory, fully aware it is telling a story of two people who will never be complete without each other. The performances are top notch, particularly the quietly tortured Cullen, who aches for much of the film but plays it close to the chest until the end. Intimately and beautifully shot, Urszula Pontikos’ cinematography is one of the rare instances where the freestyle floating camera brings us closer to the subjects. Carried solely by the two central figures, Weekend is a triumph in personal drama.
Weekend was released in Australia on 26 January 2012 from Rialto.