It's Hard Out Here for a Revolutionary

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Jacob Lundström

Adapted from a novel by Bernard Schlink, whose book The Reader was made into film in 2008 by Stephen Daldry, The Weekend (Das Wochenende) chronicles the loneliness of a long-distance revolutionary. The RAF terrorist Jens has isolated himself from his friends and family, not only as a consequence of his 18 year long time spent in prison, but also because of his firm political convictions.

Jens’ sister brings him to a house in the country, where old friends join in to celebrate his release from prison. One of them is his former lover Inga, who brings her husband to the table, an affluent pastry professional who enjoys the good life. A petit-choux bourgeois who embodies everything Jens finds reprehensible. Forget about class antagonism, let’s eat some cake?

Another guest is a former fellow underground fighter who has written a book about the time, which Jens dismisses as “armchair psychology” neglecting their “political objectives”.

I don’t know if it is an irony lost on the filmmakers, but the same could of course also be said of The Weekend.

Armchair or not — in fact Jens seems to be doing most of his soul searching in a symbolic watchtower in the woods — are there any class enemies hiding in the mist or is it just an ideological illusion? — The Weekend dwells deep in psychological territory and is open to interpretation. Nina Grosse’s film asks if courage means to hold on to one’s beliefs or to reconsider them.

It doesn’t take long for Jens to poison the celebrations with his accusatory remarks and blunt inquiries into who ratted him out. His struggle seems to have become stale, transformed into judgemental self-righteousness, constantly calling his friends out on their hypocrisy. Which apparently leaves him all alone in the fight.

The Weekend has the bitter after-taste of the semi-romantic revolutionary biopics of the last few years. Instead however of depicting the rise of the armed left-wing movements in the 1970s, as in Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex or Olivier Assaya’s Carlos, The Weekend starts off after the fact.

In that sense, it is a politically depressed film, which doesn’t suggest any possible progressive way forward. Nina Grosse has made a film about a politically disillusioned generation, in a time — or is it age? — since all the characters are well over 50 — when it is no longer chic to be revolutionary.

The reawakened love story between Jens and Inga is the main focus of the narrative (along with his confrontation with their son). But even if Inga wouldn’t want to go back to hiding from the police in a tiny apartment in Hanover, her new encounter with Jens proves to be an eye-opener. Whether it is because of her convenient, but passion-lacking marriage or her sleepwalking bourgeois lifestyle, she revolts against it all in the end, is however not definitive.

Incidentally, the film itself tells the story of the lost radical aspirations of cinema. It is a well-acted but conventional kammerspiel, contented with capturing individual self-realization. The only thing The Weekend has in common with Jean-Luc Godard’s film from 1967 is its title.