DIR/WRI: Andrew Haigh • PRO: Tristan Goligher • DOP: Urszula Pontikos • ED: Andrew Haigh • DES: Sarah Finlay • CAST: Tom Cullen, Chris New, Laura Freeman

At one point in Andrew Haigh’s highly impressive debut feature, the politically -conscious Glen (Chris New) bemoans the dearth of gay narratives in mainstream culture, pouring out his frustration at the relentlessly heterosexual emphasis of the traditional Hollywood boy-meets-girl scenario. Its a moment which not only raises an important point about romantic conventions in film, it also serves as an ironic way of illustrating what makes this film such a unique proposition. Eschewing the avant-garde sensibility of much self-consciously militant gay cinema, as well as the melodramatic sentiment of a film like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Weekend succeeds by depicting its central gay couple in as naturalistic a manner as possible. In doing so, director Haigh and his talented cast create a memorably intimate study of a modern relationship which will resonate with audiences of all persuasions.

When Russell (Tom Cullen), a reserved lifeguard, picks up Glen (Chris New) in a gay bar, they forge an instant connection. Glen, in contrast to Russell, is confidently out of the closet and has strong artistic ambitions, allied to a boldly gay-centric world-view. However, Glen’s facade of bravado masks a deep insecurity in terms of his attitude to commitment and relationships. Over the course of a sex and drug-fuelled weekend, these two opposing characters share a succession of intimate moments, their intense bond developing as they work through their opposing views on sexuality, identity and relationships. The significance of their brief fling is suddenly magnified when Glen reveals that he is to emigrate in a few days, leading the central pair to new realisations about themselves and their respective approaches to life and love.

A synopsis of this film really fails to do justice to the fine work done here by everyone involved. The genius of Haigh’s debut is in its simplicity : the director avoids superficial flash or the tendency towards quirky irony that blights so much modern indie film-making. Instead, Haigh’s unfussy, intelligent direction allows us to be carefully drawn into the sometimes nervous intimacy shared by its protagonists. Tom Cullen and Chris New as the central couple are both revelatory, and the slow building of their rapport is wonderfully convincing. The spark of sexual electricity and mutual frustration between the characters, as well as revealing moments of post-coital tenderness and generosity, are all observed with an admirable honesty and a complete lack of artifice. In fact, Weekend is exactly the type of film which young film-makers should be exposed to, so exemplary is its graceful simplicity and remarkable insight. Here’s hoping that Andrew Haigh’s hugely promising debut avoids lazy categorisations and reaches the wide audience it richly deserves.

Martin Cusack

Weekend is released on 11th November 2011


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