An arch, bittersweet, splendidly acted comedy, “Le Week-End” provides a preview of what a “Before Midnight” sequel might be like, should Richard Linklater ever make a fourth in that ongoing relationship saga. The main difference being that Meg (Lindsay Duncan), a schoolteacher, and her husband Nick (Jim Broadbent), a philosophy professor at a provincial university, make better company than the waspish pair that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters have become.
Not that they are any less antagonistic. Traveling by train from London to Paris, where they plan to celebrate their anniversary, the two indulge in a familiar scene of grumpy discontent expected of couples who have been together for 30 years. Nick frets about losing the euros; Meg sighs, “I could lose you in a minute.” He is pathetic in his attentions; she recoils at his touch. Later he laments, “Your vagina has become a closed book to me.”
Once in Paris, matters do not improve. The quaint hotel where decades before they spent a romantic interlude has not aged well; disgusted, Meg heads for a ritzy place far beyond their means. Once established, Nick’s idea of a good time includes visiting the graves of his heroes in the Montparnasse Cemetery (“That was fun!” he says after paying his respects at Beckett’s grave. “Let’s go visit Sartre!”). During a meal at a restaurant they can’t afford, he insists they talk about something important: the new tiles for the bathroom. But she wants to discuss something else: divorce.
Then the check arrives. There is something liberating about skipping out of a restaurant without paying, and, after running gaily through the streets, the two kiss passionately for the first time. But then Jeff Goldblum’s irresistibly lubricious Morgan enters the scene. An old college chum, now a successful economics pundit with a new book, he sees in Nick the idealist that he had hoped to become. He invites them to a celebratory soiree at his flat. And there occurs the inevitable dinner table confrontation scene.
With his worn, bumbling, and ironic charm, Broadbent has mastered the role of frumpy bourgeois spouse in an enduring marriage (as can be seen, under happier circumstances, in Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”). Duncan’s Meg has a faded beauty that becomes incandescent when she taps into her puckish humor. And Paris remains, however pricey, the place where such magic can sometimes happen.
And what is Paris without the presence of Jean-Luc Godard? In addition to the Godard film (“Weekend”) evoked by the title, allusions to Godard’s 1964 “Bande à part” recur in “Le Week-End,” though this deceptively conventional film outwardly bears no resemblance to the antic New Wave masterpiece. Wisely, director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) does not burden Hanif Kureishi’s literate, witty and emotionally nuanced script and the impeccable performances with an attempt at personal style. He allows Duncan, Broadbent, and Goldblum to resurrect the anarchic spirit that, half a century later, still believes in a world of boundless potential.