NEW YORK — In the film “Le Week-End,” a middle-class British couple travel to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, trying to reignite the sparks of a romance dulled from years of routine. An affectionate, easy intimacy between them is palpable, and they share a playfulness and a similarly spiky sense of humor. But fissures in the foundation of their relationship are apparent, cracks that anyone who’s been in a long-term union will recognize: the disappointment and resentments that have accumulated over years of raising children and running a household, and the boredom and dissatisfaction that emerge in a now-empty nest.
Over a leisurely afternoon lunch, before the emotional fireworks are launched, Meg (a vivacious Lindsay Duncan) tries to coax her husband to see their entire relationship, warts and all.
“You always did edit out the arguments and the misery,” she says.
Nick, played by the avuncular British treasure Jim Broadbent, responds with weary resignation. “You can’t not love and hate the same person — usually within the space of five minutes, in my experience.”
“Within a few beats, they are toasting each other with champagne on a hotel balcony, and the next minute they’re at each other’s throats. Their relationship is untidy, and their dealings with each other are inconsistent in a way that mirrors real life,” said the film’s director, Roger Michell, during a visit to Manhattan last fall for the movie’s premiere at the New York Film Festival.
Indeed, that thin line between love and hate in a relationship, and the challenges of navigating a long-term romance, are at the heart of many movies, including Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” trilogy (co-written with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine,” the adaptation of Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road,” and such classics as Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage.”
“Le Week-End,” opening in the Boston area on Friday, is the latest in a spate of films that focus on a single relationship, sometimes over a brief period of time, putting the strains and challenges of lives lived together under a microscope in order to examine and analyze their contours, complexities, and shifting colors in acute detail.
“A lot of people write about how love begins. Ours is a film about how love might begin to end,” Michell said of the “Le Week-End.” “The film is trying to be forensic about a marriage — a particular marriage, but a marriage which I think a lot of people will relate to.”
Written by Hanif Kureishi (“Venus,” “My Beautiful Laundrette”), “Le Week-End” shares much with the “Before” trilogy in particular — a melancholy naturalism; heady, meandering conversations about love, life, and regret; and, with “Before Midnight” (2013), arguments that devolve into recrimination and acrimony, with old wounds and resentments dredged up and used as lethal weapons. The films are a snapshot, taking place over the course of a day or two. Jesse and Celine in “Before Midnight” are still raising two young daughters, but in “Le Week-End” the couple are at a crossroads.
Nick sees the trip to Paris, where they honeymooned 30 years ago, as an opportunity to reinvigorate the marriage, sexually and otherwise. Meg, however, has other ideas. She reveals to Nick that she’s been thinking about a separation, that it might be time to move on in the world without each other at their sides. “I want more of me,” she says. Impulsive and increasingly restless, Meg is hungering for new adventures beyond their quiet domestic life.
“She’s making a passionate claim on life. Being cozy with another person is gorgeous — being with someone who you’re really comfortable with. But if you only settle for the cozy, you’re half dead,” said Duncan, with a little laugh.
As with Jesse and Celine’s summer holiday in “Before Midnight,” the Paris getaway has exposed Nick and Meg to each other in ways that they aren’t in their daily domestic life. There are no distractions from each other, so the revelations and truths come tumbling out.
“These kinds of films are compelling and quite gripping because I think we all know that there’s an inherent risk in removing yourselves from your everyday life and just daring to be alone together,” Duncan said. “How could it go wrong? We’re intrigued to see how it works out. It is a little bit dangerous.”
In “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” audiences saw the evolution of Jesse and Celine’s courtship as it flowered to life in idyllic settings. By the third film, the couple has been together for nine years. Though they’re in the midst of an extended Greek holiday, the problems and conflicts that have taken root in their domestic sphere emerge. They still make each other smile and laugh, but resentment, frustration, and doubt are percolating just below the surface.
‘The film is trying to be forensic about a marriage . . . a marriage which I think a lot of people will relate to.’
“[The third film] is obviously more combative,” said Linklater in an interview last spring. “When you’re falling in love and a person says something that strikes a dissonant note with you, you just let it go. A relationship shifts when you start saying, ‘I disagree with that,’ when you can be honest about how things affect you, how you really feel versus how you’re trying to come across.”
Acrimony, recrimination, and psychic warfare are the fuel of films like Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage,” which examines a couple’s toxically disintegrating relationship over the course of several years, marked by painful, turbulent events including affairs, an abortion, emotional and physical violence, and divorce. With time comes a reconciliation. Despite the betrayals and hurt, their connection remains. Michael Haneke’s “Amour” takes steady, longtime companionship to its inevitable conclusion — a loving elderly couple facing infirmity and, eventually, death. Because we’re all headed there someday, it’s wrenching to watch a devoted husband care for his debilitated wife as she endures the indignities of failing health and begins fading away.
Despite their harsh truths, movies that put a relationship under a microscope are appealing because they reflect back your own experiences and observations while offering new insights. All of these films tap into our collective yearning to understand the mysteries of love, romance, and relationships and the unique alchemy that make them flourish or fall apart.
“For most of us, the most meaningful thing that happens in our life is connecting with someone we love,” said Ethan Hawke, during an interview last year for “Before Midnight.” “[Linklater] was saying from the beginning, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could make a movie that examines that intimate connection between two human beings?’ It’s a very simple idea, but it’s the essence of all three films.”
It’s the essence of “Le Week-End,” too. And there are no easy conclusions, in cinema or in life.
“You make my blood boil like nobody else,” Meg roars during one of their spats.
Replies Nick, with biting affection, “It’s the sign of a deep connection.”Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at chriswallenberg @gmail.com.