To the revolutionary chant of “Socialism or barbarism!”, Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend yells back with glee and bloodlust: “Why not both?” A polychromatic 1960s comedy of civilisational collapse, Godard’s anarchic road film figures class struggle as car crash. In the collision that follows, neither the long-haired, Marcuse-reading revolutionaries nor the leisure class transfixed by the libidinal economy of consumerism emerge unscathed. 

Corinne and Roland, a bickering, bourgeois couple, head out into the countryside to pay a visit to an ailing relative and secure (by force if necessary) a sizable inheritance. Their travel itinerary derives its structure from an inverted reading of Friedrich Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), which describes the transition of humanity from savagery to barbarism to civilization, and the regulatory role of monogamy and the nuclear family – transformed into “undisguised prostitution” by capitalist commodity production – in securing the power of the state. As they head further into a carnivalesque landscape dotted with burning car wrecks and armed hippies, the social contract of modern society descends ever further into pure spectacle, culminating in an alfresco cannibalist dinner.

Godard’s film takes its Engelsian source material seriously – as in an early scene where Corinne lies with her legs splayed in the middle of the road to persuade a passing driver to stop – but also, as with all else in this film, a side-eyed sneer – as in a later scene where an unnamed revolutionary fumbles through Engel’s theory in a painfully long and lecturing monologue while we peer into Corrine and Roland’s bored, distracted faces.

Nothing is exempt from the mocking and annihilative impulse by which Goddard organises his film. There are several other scenes in which he seemingly sets out to frustrate the audience, the most infamous being another theory rant – this time about colonialism and the necessity of revolutionary violence – which early reviewers recommended as a good time for viewers to drop out and get a coffee. The film ends with a title card pronouncing the end of cinema, and Godard reportedly fired his entire crew after completing filming.

But it would be a mistake to read Weekend solely as a lurid prank – even if it excels on those terms. Godard thrills his audience as much as he trolls them, and there are moments of astonishing craft that shine through the comedic chaos. Exemplary here is the seven-minute-plus tracking shot in which Corrine and Roland press through an endless traffic jam with insistent indifference to the chaos that surrounds them. Each car they pass seems to contain another film’s worth of drama – caged zoo animals, a chess tournament, children skipping between crash victims – which we peruse like window shoppers over the course of the shot. While the traffic jam provides an overt critique of the chaos wrought by capitalism, its jilted comedy also lures us into the consumerist mindset that perpetuates it. Godard doesn’t just critique the hollowed-out superficiality of consumerism, he also adopts it as a methodology. As he was fond of saying of the obviously fake blood that appears splattered all over this film, “Not blood, red.”

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