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Amidst the strobe lights and electric pop in an English gay bar, two men catch each other’s eyes. One is Russell, a timid lifeguard with a stubbly beard and round nose; the other is Glen, a confident artist who delights in oddities and has an armpit fetish. The two end up hooking up, and spend most of the next 48 hours together: fucking, fighting, and unexpectedly affecting each other more than either intended.
Writer/director Andrew Haigh, in only his second feature film, creates a painfully accurate portrait of a hook-up turned love story that never falls into melodrama. Shot in 17 days on location in Nottingham, UK, Weekend feels like a documentary. It didn’t hire extras to serve as crowds and most scenes are a single long shot. “Films are so over-edited nowadays,” Haigh remarked in an interview. “Nobody gives things the space to just exist.” He knows first-hand, having earned his editing merit badge on cut-heavy blockbusters like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. Much more calmly paced, Weekend captures the subtleties of first getting to know someone – how you make coffee when a stranger is in your bed, how you double up on a bike with someone you’ve known for a day.
As the post-hook-up pair share those cups of instant coffee in Russell’s bed, they have the conversation they didn’t the night before and realize just how different they are. Russell never came out to his parents. Not because he was scared of what they might say, but because he was an orphan. Glenn “doesn’t do boyfriends,” and is working on an art project that involves recording his sexual conquests the morning after. Throughout, there is a soft longing in the men’s interactions – not just for sexual pleasure (of which there is plenty), but for validation in a world that habitually disapproves. In a heated exchange after lit bowls and huffed lines, they fight over gay marriage. Glenn is jealous of how zealously Americans have fought, upset that he is trapped in a routine which he likens to cement. Russell is more content, and seems too kind to be ambitious.
After a good-bye kiss in the hallway, Glenn confesses he’s moving to America at the end of the weekend. In only a few days, the two developed an intimacy that makes the pre-planned move feel like a betrayal. Newcomers Tom Cullen (Russell) and Chris New (Glen) shine during these heightened moments, capturing emotion in silent moments. Haigh’s directorial approach requires much of them, expecting them to establish a scene’s rhythm rather than rely on editing techniques. Their raw, real chemistry and Haigh’s support of it didn’t go unnoticed when the film premiered in March at SXSW; it won the Emerging Visions Audience Award.
Gazing down from his fourteenth floor flat, Russell watches Glen and his ever-changing colors of sweatshirts leave: yellow the first morning after, red the next morning, and black the day he leaves for America. He doesn’t deliver a Shakespearean monologue from the balcony or throw down his hair to help him climb back; he just watches. Slow, smart, and painfully realistic, Weekend is a messy, modern fairytale that reminds us how much we can change in a weekend.
Weekend is playing at the Music Box Theatre. Showtimes available at: http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/features/weekend