In Praise of Lust, Love and Adultery
Marriage as a problem, and as a solution, has always been the central subject for drama, the novel and the cinema, just as it has been at the centre of our lives. Most of us have come from a marriage, and, probably, a divorce, of some sort. And the kind of questions that surround lengthy relationships – what is it to live with another person for a long time? What do we expect? What do we need? What do we want? What is the relation between safety and excitement, for each of us? – are the most important of our lives. Marriage brings together the most serious things: sex, love, children, betrayal, boredom, frustration, and property.
Le Week-End is a film set in contemporary Paris that I developed alongside the director Roger Michell, with whom I've worked on a TV series, The Buddha of Suburbia, and two films, The Mother and Venus. The films were mostly concerned with a subject we believed was neglected in the cinema, the lives and passions of older people, whose anxieties and desires, we found, were as intense, if not more significant, than those of the young.
Le Week-End concerns a late middle-aged couple, Nick and Meg, both teachers, who go to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. While there, they discuss the meaning and direction of their marriage now that their children have left home. Time and health are running out for them as they consider their impending old age and wonder what sort of future they might want, either together or apart. They think about how they might die; but this couple also need to talk about how they have lived: the way in which they have brought up their children, and how the family has worked, where it failed, and where there is regret, bitterness and even fury.
The film shows the depredations of time, but also the lability of the past, its different meaning and value for both parties, and how, now that the couple are talking, the past can seem as unstable as the future. They are looking in the same direction, but cannot see the same thing. There is no narrative they can agree on.
Their short sojourn, whatever else it is, will be a time of difficult conversations. What if it occurs to one or other of them that their relationship was a mistake, that it didn't resemble their original hopes at all, and that they could have had a far better life elsewhere? Meanwhile, what have they done to one another? Was there harm? What did they use one another for?
The couple are from a suburb of Birmingham where they have taught for decades. But "Paris was where the twentieth century was," says Gertrude Stein in Paris France. And Paris, in their provincial English imaginations, represents several desirable things: the fresh ideas and radicalism of the 60s and the barricades of 1968, along with the intellectual revolutions of their youth as exemplified by Derrida,Althusser, Lacan, Foucault. There are also personal revolutions: the idea of the equal, committed, but "open" relationship, as practised by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, for whom "the game of love" – the rondo of seduction, rejection and change – never had to end.
As Stendhal writes in Love, " The pleasures of private life ought to be augmented to an infinite degree by recurrent exposure to danger." But was it true that love could easily be turned into a form of sport or frivolous distraction? Surely love was no closer to sport than sex was to exercise?