‘Weekend’: Connected, for a moment

September 20, 2011

Its actors often mumble indistinctly, its shots linger long after most directors would have cut away – and yet there is an undeniable emotional power to Andrew Haigh’s beautifully sketched romantic drama, “Weekend.”

A cousin of films such as “Before Sunrise” and “Brief Encounter,” “Weekend” tells the story of what seems to be a one-night stand, which turns into something more. By the time the two men at the center of this story say their goodbyes, there is a feeling of something real and intimate – a connection that’s been made that will affect both partners long after they’ve parted for good.

At the center of the story is Russell (Tom Cullen), a quiet and seemingly introverted gay man first seen visiting a house party in the suburbs at the home of one of his best friends, a married guy with kids. His pal wants him to hang for the party – perhaps spend the night – but Russell makes his excuses (work in the morning) and takes the bus back to Nottingham, the city where he lives.

But after a bath, he goes out to a gay club and, getting his courage up, makes a pass at the short, aggressive Glen (Chris New). They dance, they kiss, they spend the night together. In the morning, Russell is slightly abashed at the whole thing, but Glen comes on aggressive: He pulls out a small recorder and begins to quiz Russell about his impressions from the night before, for an “art project.” Eventually, Glen leaves, though he and Russell exchange phone numbers.

At work as a lifeguard, Russell can’t resist texting Glen and the two of them wind up spending the day together. And then the night – but before Russell can get too attached, Glen drops the bomb: He’s leaving the following night for the U.S., where he’ll be studying for the next two years.

Suddenly each minute together takes on new meaning, new depth. Initially coupling for cheap thrills, they find themselves awash in unexpected feelings and their sex turns into actual love-making, a way of creating long-term memories. When Glen finally leaves and Russell looks down to watch him from his 14th-floor balcony, the tiny figure receding in the distance inspires incredible sadness.

And that is the secret to Haigh’s film. Though the characters’ dialogue is sometimes indistinct or lost in background noise, the things that pass between them are easily comprehended. And those feelings aren’t uniquely gay; anyone who has ever made a brief but intense connection with a stranger will understand the sense of wonder and excitement and sorrow that go with the beginning and end of this short-lived love.

Cullen and New are hard to understand at times, but the important lines come through. Haigh, who wrote the script, films it all in a leisurely style, letting shots go on and on, rather than employing the kind of quick-cut back-and-forth editing that informs most films today. The result is a sense of living in the moment with these characters. There’s a feeling of the life within the movie that envelops you and invests you in what happens to these two men.

“Weekend” is an honest and involving film about savoring a connection for as long as one can. Life is too short to miss a movie this touching.

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