British director Roger Mitchell’s new film, Le Week-End, follows an aging couple as they revisit Paris for the first time since their honeymoon. But instead of the black-and-white Godard dream they remember, they encounter an unaffordable metropolis that has moved on without them. Even if the movie’s themes—the disappointments of growing old and the difficulties of staying married—are on the somber side, Hanif Kureishi’s buoyant, often hilarious script and Mitchell’s light touch turn Le Week-End into a winning, heartfelt dramedy. Plus there’s the fantastic acting. Lindsay Duncan gives a scintillating performance as a still-sexual still-free spirit, but Jim Broadbent is even better as her doting husband, a professor with a repressed creative side who has taken the tapered idealism of his generation personally. Jeff Goldblum rounds out the trio of performances as a successful and hepped up American writer—looking oddly like Malcolm Gladlwell—who has decamped to Paris. Here, Mitchell and Broadbent discuss the genesis of the film, how the 1960s shaped their generation, and why any relationship that lasts more than a week starts to get complicated.
You’ve worked with Hanif Kureishi on a number of projects. How does your collaboration work? Does he write the screenplay and then send it to you when it’s done?
RM: Not at all. It’s very collaborative. The last film we made was called Venus. When we were promoting the film we were traveling a lot and talking about what we might do next. We came up with this idea of the trip to Paris. So we did the trip to Paris.
You and Hanif?
RM: Yes. Of course we stayed in the shitty hotel, we didn’t stay in the deluxe hotel. But we went to all of the places they go to. We bickered. We couldn’t decide on a restaurant. We made lots of notes. That was the genesis of the film. And that was like seven years ago. Since then we’ve been passing it backwards and forwards whilst doing other things. He’s been writing books, I’ve been making films. It took quite a long time but it was worth the wait.
There’s such a bittersweet mix to this film. It can be both very serious and very funny about relationships.
RM: We were thinking of it as a snapshot of a marriage. A very particular marriage. And yet it is also about any relationship. Any relationship that has been going for longer than a week. (Laughs) Because after that any relationship will have that mix of love and hate, irritation and adoration. No attempt is made to smooth out the shape of the story. They can be really loving with each other instantly after being at each other’s throats. At least from my experience that’s a special human behavioral characteristic that is not often portrayed in fiction. Because fiction likes to knock off the rough edges and make shapes a bit clearer. Of course in the chaos of a real relationship those shapes aren’t so clear.
It’s also a generational portrait. Having read so much about the 1960s I can very quickly imagine what the characters would have been like when they were younger. Were you able to draw on your own experience of that time?
JB: I wasn’t like him. I wasn’t an activist in any way. But obviously I knew and was close to loads of people who were. It was all in the zeitgeist of the time. It was very easy to tap into my own memories of the period. And maybe even my slight guilt of not having been more at the heart of the revolution.
What drew you to the part?
JB: I love all the mixture between being quite distant and aloof and quite needy. And all the contradictions in between. Being quite selfish and guarded. Yet actually thinking at the end the best way is to be absolutely brutally honest with yourself and with others. The role was very rich.
I wanted to ask about the scene when he is listening to Bob Dylan on an iPhone or iPad. Throughout the film there’s a certain flavor of nostalgia or pessimism about the fate of the youthful hopes of the 1960s. Is that something you discussed with Hanif?
RM: I think pessimism might be too strong a word. But I know what you mean. There might be a sense of revisionism, of revisiting that period of youth. And I think that’s always poignant. And sometimes it’s disappointing to review your life and particularly your earlier idealism through the prism of your actual nowness. But I think Jim is right. Jim and Jeff Goldblum’s character don’t see eye to eye about this. Jeff Goldblum’s character is much more flippant about what happened in the 1960s. Whereas I think Jim’s character took it very seriously. He would argue that lots of those epic battles that were set in motion in the 1960s have actually been won. In terms of civil rights, gay rights, gender equality. There are lots of battles that haven’t been won. But I don’t think the film is trying to say that all that was a chimera.
JB: One thing I did recognize in the film––I can think of a number of people who I went to school with or grew up with who peaked in their early 20s. And they were the stars of their generation. We always wondered what they might end up doing. And many of them didn’t do a lot. There is a recognition that my character was one of those. He really had a great deal of potential.
RM: He’s been ground down by the educational system around him. Hanif and I went to the least prestigious university in Birmingham and met the one guy there who teaches philosophy. And it was very salutary to talk to him. He literally said I feel like I’m cranking the handle and people roll off the end of the year with meaningless degrees they didn’t really earn.
Do you think the film will appeal to young people?
JB: It remains to be seen really. I mean everyone has parents. So maybe they’ll get a glimpse of their parents.
RM: I think if they go to the cinema to see the film they’ll really like it. It might be a problem getting them there. There’s no attempt to capture any particular demographic. People have asked us if this is a sequel to Marigold Hotel. Is this an attempt to woo the older generation? Not at all. For us it’s meant to appeal to everyone. The film is very youthful in its way.