“Le Weekend: Intimacy in Long Term Marriage”

By Jacqueline Lucas Palmer.

What a moving, funny and tragic experience it is to watch Hanif Kureishi and Roger Michell’s film depicting Meg and Nick (Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) a late middle-aged couple, who spend a weekend in Paris for their 30thwedding anniversary.

As they try to rediscover, revisit, and rekindle their lost romance, the hotel of their past is a miserable run down beige Meg cannot face. The luxurious hotel and restaurants they enjoy are out of their reach on their teaching salaries. Their stumbling disconnected attempts at sex inevitably fail. In Crucible couples therapy, David Schnarch and Ruth Morehouse explore the use of ‘mind mapping’, a skill any four year old develops to read the minds of his parents, teachers and siblings. Mind mapping (or ‘reading’) between couples can be manipulated in sex, as we withhold from our partners, and learn that as long as our partner still desires us, it’s safe to refuse. And it’s the sex Meg knows she’s going to have, that isn’t worth having. As she yearns for something her partner of thirty years just cannot deliver, Nick looks longingly at a younger woman who holds an imprint of his younger self’s desire. Kureishi writes in ‘In Praise of Adultery’, about the problem of desire, as ‘ever-present and ever-pressing…you cannot wish it away and it cannot be replaced by a substitute’.

Nick meanwhile is convinced his wife is having a fling with her computer technician. While they revisit the narrative of their life together with differing perspectives, the film confirms the islands of isolation we inhabit in long-term relationships. Kureishi describes the couple as ‘over-intimate…How can you desire what you already have’. This is the question couples therapists explore endlessly. Schnarch explores this in ‘A Passionate Marriage’, and Esther Perel in ‘Mating in Captivity’. Schnarch talks of couples agreeing on leftovers as the menu for sex, as each partner takes certain ‘taboo’ acts off the menu. Le Weekend captures the missed invitations and lost opportunities for connection, as they struggle with sex and intimacy.

Bumping into his New York friend from Oxford University days, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) invites them to a sophisticated dinner, celebrating his latest book launch in his luxury Paris apartment. Morgan is now an acclaimed, published pop philosopher, having a second chance at life in Paris, with a new wife less than half his age, and a baby on the way, Nick is forced to face his low self esteem, his failure to achieve more, and his impending early dismissal at his lectureship post. His philosophy offers him little relief as he faces these big life questions.

In Morgan’s toast to his old college friend, it is clear that he has continued to uphold Nick as a measure of greatness and inspiration, a chart or template to compare himself against, as he regularly wondered what Nick might have said or thought. Nick’s riposte is a searing, powerful and tragicomic bear-all account of his life, marriage, family, and fall from grace, that bears little resemblance to Morgan’s tribute. An ‘other-esteem’ that sadly has not had any reflected effect on his own. Morgan’s stoned son alone applauds, in the company of the glittering guests, yet there’s a ripple effect in the cinema audience, as we celebrate his authenticity.

As Nick and Meg bop and stroll to a jazz track in a 60’s Godard movie, (is it ‘Weekend’?) they confirm their connection, the nostalgia of their trip, some lost dreams of hope, liberation, and change, that Godard’s movies represent, within the confines of their reality; long term marriage, work, family, and ageing.