“A sort of love story”, says director, writer and editor Andrew Haigh when asked to describe his film in exactly five words. But Weekend is certainly not your typical love story. There’s no boy meets girl or happily ever after.
The story follows the meeting and consequent weekend of two lovely blokes from Nottingham, Russell and Glen, played by relative newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New. The pair were selected for the roles thanks to their brilliant chemistry and the fact that “they were just really good actors”. When the two meet in a club – very different characters with very different attitudes to life and their own sexuality – the days that follow make for incredibly beautiful viewing. Compared to the 1995 classic Before Sunrise, Weekend explores the rarity of the deep emotional and physical connections experienced between total strangers. The result is a startlingly real portrayal of the first encounters in a relationship – one that manages to simultaneously amuse, captivate and warm hearts.
Haigh positively encouraged exploration and deviation from the script, stating “there needed to be surprise and spontaneity in the film, and improvisation was essential to that”. Having won the Audience Award for Emerging Visions at this year’s SXSW, the Grand Jury Award at Outfest and numerous others, it’s safe to say that the world is reacting well to the controversial film, particularly in the US. Haigh comments: “it has certainly been harder to get it in the cinemas over here and get the press as interested. I’m not sure what that says, but it says something.” The talented Haigh has worked his way through the film industry for the past fifteen years. With previous editing credits on the likes of Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Hannibal Rising, he moved on to directing soon after. Describing himself as a big fan of neo-realist cinema, Haigh cites Dardennes, Kelly Reichardt and Ramin Bahrani as big influences, stating: “I want my films to feel like life unfolding in front of your eyes”.
i-D online quizzed Haigh about weekends, film grammar and the usual inspirations…
What inspired you to make the film? I wanted to make a film that gave an authentic depiction of being gay but that also was so much more than that. I wanted it to be a love story that didn’t fall into the trap of sentimentality. It had to also be about important issues we all face regardless of sexuality, the struggle of finding our place in the world.
The film is very much character-based, and the characters feel very familiar. How important was this to you? Very. The characters have to resonate with an audience. I wanted you to watch the film and see elements of yourself in both of the characters, almost as if it is an internal dialogue between different parts of yourself. This is where the universality comes from. They are both clearly gay but I think most people regardless of who they like to sleep with can make associations with the characters.
What audience did you make the film for? Tricky one. In many ways when I was writing it, I tried to ignore the audience. It is a dangerous thing trying to appeal to a certain audience. I needed to just try and write something honest and real and focused and hope that people responded to that. Saying that I always knew my primary audience would be gay people. That is an inevitability when you make a film like this. However much we have progressed as a society it is still hard to persuade straight people, especially men, to come see a film about gay men. It’s a shame really but watering down the content of the film to appeal to a wider audience doesn’t work either. Not to me, anyway.
Are you at all influenced by Jean-Luc Godard and his Weekend? I think almost everyone is a little bit influenced by him even it’s just the impact he has had on cinema. His film Weekend has nothing to do with my film although Godard’s constant dedication to trying to do something different with form and film grammar is something I aspire to.
If you could work with any actor, dead or alive, who would it be? Although she acted when she was a kid, she is not an actress, but I would love to cast the singer Jenny Lewis in a cinema-verite road movie. It would be like the obscure but classic American film, Wanda by Barbra Loden but with songs. So if anyone knows her…
What are your three favourite films?
Point Blank by John Boorman.
Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt
Last Night by Don Mckellar
What’s next? I’m busy trying to write at the moment and have a number of things I’m working on. One is set in LA and one is set in Norfolk countryside and is about a collapsing marriage and dead woman frozen in the ice.
Weekend is released in UK cinemas today.
Text: Francesca Dunn