Andrew Haigh's smart, engaging Weekend is filled with ideas and heart, humor and sadness. Unfolding over the course of a single weekend in which handsome, melancholy lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) meets and falls for Glen (Chris New), a firebrand art student with prickly notions about marriage, family, sex, and art, the film both honors classic tropes and defies expectations. Following a packed screening at this year's Los Angeles Outfest film festival, Haigh sat down to discuss his film's unique style, gay marriage, and the role that classic films played in inspiring Weekend.
Ernest Hardy: Weekend feels out of time — a throwback to New Queer Cinema, but forward-thinking in its depiction of gay relationships. Formally, with its measured pacing, minimal use of music, and long edit-free scenes, it makes demands on the viewer. The payoff is that the emotion in the third act is so powerful because it's been earned.
Andrew Haugh: I knew when I was writing it that it wasn't going to be an easy thing. It kind of starts off slowly and takes its time. The kinds of films I like are the ones that take their time. If you reach an emotional pinnacle too early on in a film, that's kind of it. I think, as in real life, when you're getting to know someone, it starts off slowly.
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EH: Even people who haven't had many "weekends," including a lot of heterosexuals, recognize and relate to what's being said about loneliness, emotional isolation, and longing.
AH: That was always really important to me. I personally think it's because of the issues happening underneath the film, which is two people trying to work out who they are, what they want, how they're gonna live their lives, and how they're gonna be in public to the world. It's what we all deal with all the time — whether you're gay, straight, or whatever.
EH: You mentioned that one reason you wanted to shoot in Nottingham, England, is that it's where Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was filmed.
AH: The apartment block that [Weekend] is set in is actually built on where the house [from Saturday Night] used to be — exactly on the same place. And that wasn't intentional; it was pure coincidence, but it was really nice.
I love that film. As I was writing this, I didn't feel that I was directly inspired by it, but then as I started thinking about the two films: In a way, Albert Finney's character and the woman with whom he's having a relationship are trying to work out their place in a changing world — whether they want to accept the mainstream opinion or fight against it. I kind of see Glen as an update of Albert Finney's character, He's still fighting against the mainstream, but he's also fighting against the gay community and trying to forge his own path, even if it makes him unhappy.
EH: When the characters have sex, there's no discussion of AIDS or safe sex. Was that because the introduction of that topic would skew the tone of the film too much?
AH: I think it would certainly skew the tone. But in my head, they have safe sex. They would have used condoms. Maybe that's just because the generation that I'm from, I just assume everybody would use a condom. Why wouldn't you? A lot of people have brought that up. Someone asked me if I feel that I'm promoting unsafe sex. I was just like [groans] Nooooooo!
I would hate anybody to think I'm promoting unsafe sex. It's crazy that people wouldn't use condoms. But let's face it, if in that scene [everything] suddenly stopped and had been like, 'Make sure you use a condom; this is how you put it on properly,' that'd probably destroy the tone of the whole thing.
EH: Do you see this film as sort of validating — for lack of a better word — the ways in which gay men have connected historically, ways that are kind of demonized by some of the more vocal, increasingly conservative quarters of the community?
AH: For a long time, gay men fought to be seen as different, doing our own thing: This is our lives, this is what we do, accept it. There's a conservatism that has come into the gay community: "We're just like you, just like everyone else." And maybe some people are and they do want to get married and so on, but that doesn't mean that other people that don't wanna get married . . . [He pauses.] Sometimes, I feel like the straight world is actually hooking onto the idea that they're quite happy for us to get married because it means, 'Whew! They are like us.'
EH: A lot of progressive hetero folks support gay marriage because, ultimately, it validates them and their relationships. It removes the weight of respecting and valuing truly diverse ways of being.
AH: Of course, everyone should have the right to get married. But I think people need to remember sometimes that we don't all need to be the same. There's thousands of different types of relationships that people can have, whether it's completely monogamous or it's not monogamous, or they're married or they're single or whatever it is. All of those are valid as long as you are doing what you want to do, and it's your choice. And that's nothing to do with being gay. A struggle that almost everybody faces is finding that balance between feeling like they're free as an individual, and having a kind of social safety and comfort.
EH: While the film wonderfully captures the ways in which many LGBT folks can be outsiders in the midst of our own families or groups of friends, it also shows how we can let our fears lead us to make off-base assumptions about what they're interested in or able to handle — and in the process we might sell them, and ourselves short.
AH: Because it's scary. We all know what it's like to tell our family and the people we love that we're gay. That fear is still there. I think especially if you are not obviously gay, or if you could be perceived as straight, that it's almost harder because you're constantly having to come out. Even with your straight friends, they almost forget you're gay until you say something and they're like, 'Oh, yeah.'
EH: And you gauge your straight friends' reactions, their visible discomfort if the conversation steers a certain way, the ways they can be oblivious to the ways in which your life and theirs is just not the same, and you condition yourself to censor yourself . . .
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AH: Because you feel uncomfortable. They can talk about girls they've had sex with and feel free to go into all sorts of details, but if you mention it they're like, 'Um . . .' So you censor yourself. The thing is, you shouldn't censor yourself. You should just be as open as you can.
EH: As much as the film is reminiscent of queer films of the '90s in the way it experiments with form and expectation, the ending also harks back to classic Hollywood flicks. But the reference isn't played for irony — it's unabashedly romantic.
AH: I knew that setting a scene in a train station was gonna reference Brief Encounters and a million other films. That was intentional, and the end of the film is quite positive. You think, 'They're gonna be all right, these two people.'