Movie Interviews
4:04 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

'Le Week-End': A Story Of Feuding Couples On Screen And Off

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 5:35 pm

In the film Le Week-End, a couple takes a weekend trip to Paris to celebrate an anniversary. But it's not the romantic getaway you might expect.

Nick and Meg, played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, are in their 60s and have, in any ways, become disillusioned with their marriage. They spend the weekend trying to figure out what they're doing together and what they want from one another.

This is the fourth collaboration between acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell, who directed Notting Hill.

Throughout the film, the couple rapidly vacillates between love and war. Kureishi says this resembles his relationship with Michell.

"We are like a married couple — we argue all the time and we never have sex," Kureishi tells NPR's Arun Rath. "We're rather like the couple in Le Week-End, in the sense that we argue and fall out and then we do something really good together and then he has a tantrum and so on."

In the end, Kureishi says, the drama of the collaboration pays off: "It seems to me we're doing stuff together that we couldn't do separately."

Like two of their previous films, The Mother and Venus, Le Week-End focuses on the intimate lives of older people. Kureishi says that as he's aged he has become more fixated on these kinds of stories.


Interview Highlights

On making films about the romantic lives of older people

When I had kids, I began to look at the world from a different point of view and I realized there was in a sense more material in older people that I didn't, in a way, want to write about kids as I had done in, say, The Buddha of Suburbia, My Beautiful Laundrette and so on. And the lives of older people are not normally portrayed much in the cinema.

Most people who have sex in most films are having sex for the first time. It suddenly occurred to me and Rog to think about what would it be like to make love somebody that you've already made love to for 30 years. And I suddenly saw there was an audience for serious films that was not really being catered to.

On switching between novels, essays and movies

It's a tough compromise. You know, I can write an essay for which I get paid 200 bucks and then I'm trying to write a movie to keep my kids in shoes and so on. So, it's a real hustle being a professional writer. I'm amazed at my age — I'm nearly 60 now — that I've managed to make a living, as a member of an ethnic minority in Britain, as a writer for most of my life. It seems to me, looking back, there's a sort of incredible achievement. So I do all of these things because some of them sponsor the other things that I do.

On his next project with director Roger Michell

I want to write a story about two women, two friends, and one of them goes out on a date and meets a man and begins a very hot, sexual relationship with this man. And the story is really going to be about how her pleasure affects her friend and the rest of her family. And Roger and I are beginning to work on this. But you never know with Roger, he's a difficult fellow. It may not work at all.

It's easy to have an idea; in fact, it's easy to have a good idea. But to really develop it and to see whether this idea is going to hold up is another matter. So what we writers do is spend a lot of time throwing stuff away. You need to make a lot of material just to find a little bit of gold you might then be able to make into something for an audience.

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

A romantic getaway in Paris that goes awry. Sounds like the perfect material for a movie comedy, almost a cliche. Not so much if the couple in question is a pair of cranky, 60-something English academics arguing about everything from sex to spending habits.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LE WEEK-END")

LINDSAY DUNCAN: (As Meg) Well, I think we found a very good time.

JIM BROADBENT: (As Nick) You know I'm anxious about money. We might live for ages as a burden to others.

DUNCAN: (As Meg) I've taken up Zumba. I'm redesigning my body.

BROADBENT: (As Nick) Why? Who's going to see it?

RATH: That's Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as Nick and Meg in "Le Week-End." It's the fourth collaboration between acclaimed writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell, who directed "Notting Hill." Like two of their previous films, "The Mother" and "Venus," "Le Week-End" focuses on the intimate lives of older people. As he's gotten older, Hanif Kureishi says he's become more fixated on those stories.

HANIF KUREISHI: When I had kids, I began to look at the world from a different point of view. And I realized there was, in a sense, more material in older people that I didn't, in a way, want to write about kids as I had done in, say, "The Buddha of Suburbia," "My Beautiful Laundrette" and so on. And the lives of older people are not normally portrayed much in the cinema.

Most people who have sex in most films are having sex for the first time. It suddenly occurred to me and Rog to think about what would it be like to make love to somebody who you'd made love to already for 30 years? And I suddenly saw that there was an audience for serious films that was not really being catered to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LE WEEK-END")

BROADBENT: (As Nick) We could try taking our lovemaking into another dimension.

DUNCAN: (As Meg) What do you have in mind?

BROADBENT: (As Nick) I thought we could pretend to be other people.

DUNCAN: (LAUGHTER)

RATH: It's an extremely intimate film, but it's a side of people, I think - especially couples that have been together that long and you don't really see very often in film - really exposing their passions in a way you don't generally see.

KUREISHI: Well, as a writer, it was a great challenge to do because there's not a lot going on. There are no bangs or cars or crashes or big noises or anything. And it's about something that Roger and I thought was really important to write about, which was, why be with somebody else? What do you have to give up, you might say, in order to be in this relationship? And during the weekend, they try and figure out what they're doing together or what they want from one another and so on.

So it's a comedy, I guess. There's some bitterness in it because there are a sort of history of resentments, let's say, between them.

RATH: And some of the comedy comes out of some of the bitterness.

KUREISHI: Well, Roger and I wanted to make a film that was really about people who would switch pretty quickly between loathing one another and between loving one another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LE WEEK-END")

BROADBENT: (As Nick) This is it, isn't it, my love? This is where I want to be forever.

DUNCAN: (As Meg) You always did edit out the arguments and the misery.

RATH: You talk a bit about the collaboration process with Roger Michell because obviously the collaboration must work well since you've done this several times now. Do you come up with ideas together? Do you write first and then you come to him?

KUREISHI: All of those things (unintelligible). I mean, I'll have an idea and I'll give it to Roger Michell who'd say that was a terrible idea. Then I'll write some stuff down, and he'd say, most of this is terrible, but there were three scenes that I really like. And actually, we're rather like the couple in "Le Week-End," in the sense that we argue and fall out and then we do something really good together and then he has a tantrum and so on.

But it's a really good collaboration because I see in the end something really good comes out of the disputes and the debates we have together. It seems to me that we're doing stuff together that we couldn't do separately.

RATH: And you compared yourself to the old married couple in "Le Week-End." Did I hear correctly that the film was actually inspired by a trip the two of you took to Paris?

KUREISHI: Roger and I did a sort of research trip together. And we stayed, as a couple do, in a rather rundown, crumby hotel. You know, we are like a married couple. We argue all the time, and we don't have sex.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: Is it difficult to get backing for - you know, this is a film, like you said, not only does it not have explosions, but it's really centered on the passions, the love life of older people. It's got a pacing that's kind of uncommon for films these days. How do you guys get backing for these films?

KUREISHI: You can make these films if you make them cheap and if you get really good actors and you don't pay them very much but they want to do it because they like the parts. And the other thing you need is a really good script, a really good story. And they all want to be in it. So if you can get all those ingredients going at once, you can get your money back.

RATH: Hmm. I'm trying to think of what it must be like for a writer to be able to toggle back and forth between being in total control the way you are in a novel and in this very collaborative process. It doesn't seem like it would be easy to switch back and forth, but it's something you've been doing for a while.

KUREISHI: It's a tough compromise. It's a real hustle being a professional writer. I'm amazed at my age - I'm nearly 60 now - that I've managed to make a living as a member of an ethnic minority in Britain, as a writer for most of my life. It seems to me, looking back, there's a sort of incredible achievement. So I do all of these things because some of them sponsor the other things I want to do.

RATH: You mentioned you've already been having conversations with Roger about future projects.

KUREISHI: Yeah.

RATH: Any preview you can give us about what we might see in the next several years?

KUREISHI: I want to write a story about two women, two friends. And one of them goes out on a date and meets a man and begins a very hot, sexual relationship with this man. And the story is really going to be about how her pleasure affects her friend and the rest of her family. And Roger and I are beginning to work on this. But you never know with Roger. He's a difficult fellow. It may not work out at all.

It's easy to have an idea. In fact, it's easy to have a good idea. But to really develop it and to see whether this idea is going to hold up is another matter. So what we writers do is spend a lot of time throwing stuff away. You need to make a lot of material just to find a little bit of gold you might then be able to make into something for an audience.

RATH: Hanif Kureishi's latest collaboration with Roger Michell is "Le Week-End." It's out now in select theaters. Hanif Kureishi, thank you so much for your time today.

KUREISHI: Thank you. I enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.