If Jean-Luc Godard hadn't already used it for an earlier film, Contempt would have been a perfect title for his 1967 film Weekend, which perfectly captures the exhilarating, scary, revolutionary spirit of the late '60s. If filmmakers are the all-powerful gods of the universes they create, then the Godard who made Weekend was definitely an angry and wrathful deity, the kind of Old Testament fire-breather who destroys entire worlds just to teach foolish mortals a lesson or two. An intertitle near the end proclaims Weekend the "end of cinema," but it doubles as the symbolic end to the bourgeois values and rampant consumerism against which Godard would spend the rest of his career waging a one-sided war. As cinematographer Raoul Coutard maps out in an engaging interview included on the recently released Weekend DVD, Godard made the film under circumstances that eerily echoed those of Contempt. In both instances, Godard fought viciously with the film's producer, who forced upon him a lead actress he bitterly resented. Godard made Weekend partially to enrage his producer, but as a provocation, it sets out an extremely wide net, implicating a huge chunk of Western society in its bitterly acidic take on modern capitalism ripping apart at the seams.
An absurdist comedy as dark, vast, and unsentimental as a black hole, Weekend casts Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne as a particularly loathsome upscale couple out for a weekend country drive that steadily descends into chaos, revolution, surrealism, and anarchy. The film takes place in a world where capitalism has transformed everything into a cynical transaction of commodities, especially sex. Here, Godard delights in robbing consumers of their shiny, superficial pleasures, methodically turning fast cars, beautiful women, and violence into blunt, joyless instruments of destruction. In the process, he makes the ultimate car movie for people who hate automobiles, complete with one of the most justly revered tracking shots in film historyan uninterrupted traffic jam where the braying of horns becomes an avant-garde symphony of pointless, post-industrial aggression.
It's hard to conceive that Weekend was made nearly 40 years ago, since its sensibility seems so thoroughly contemporary, so aggressively postmodern. Is it the end of cinema, the end of the world, or just the end of the most fruitful period in Godard's career? Weekend is all three, and its apocalyptic anger remains so extreme that no amount of ironic, Bertolt Brecht-esque distance can mask it. The film resonates as strongly today as it did back in 1967, when it eerily predicted the social and political upheaval that would rock the world shortly thereafter.