Filmmakers’ bumpy weekend in Paris became ‘Le Week-End’

“We always bicker,” director Roger Michell, right, says of working with writer and friend Hanif Kureishi.
“We always bicker,” director Roger Michell, right, says of working with writer and friend Hanif Kureishi.
(Montse Castillo / San Sebastian International Film)

Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi were on a worldwide promotional tour for “Venus,” the 2006 film that earned Peter O’Toole his last Oscar nomination, when the two collaborators’ seemingly nonstop travel schedule hatched the concept for a new film.

“We had lots of airplane flights and came up with this idea of a couple going to Paris for 48 hours as a very easy and beautiful structure,” Michell said.

He and Kureishi decided to take their own 48-hour trip to Paris to outline the characters and the plot. The result is “Le Week-End,” opening Friday, in which Lindsay Duncan (in a British Independent Film Award-winning performance) and Jim Broadbent play Meg and Nick, a longtime married couple at a crossroads.

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Just as the characters in their film, Michell (“Notting Hill’) and Kureishi (“My Beautiful Laundrette”) embarked on a journey that wasn’t entirely smooth.

“We always bicker and argue,” Michell said. “We stayed in a horrible little hotel on the Left Bank, and we couldn’t agree on what restaurant to go to. We did most of the things this couple does.”

As their weekend played out, the two men talked about what might be in the film. “It started to take shape,” Michell said, “and that process continued for six years.”

Broadbent plays a college professor who’s lost his job and has seen his children grow up and leave the nest. He and his wife are doubting their marriage and hope to rekindle their passion by returning to Paris, the site of their honeymoon. Jeff Goldblum plays a vibrant American expatriate writer and friend of Nick’s whom the two encounter during the trip.

“Most love stories are about the beginnings — the moment where people meet, where they fall in love and when they kiss,” Michell said.

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“This is all very different, because it’s about the end of something — maybe. It’s very ambitious to show what most marriages are really like. I think in most marriages, you alternately hate the person and within five minutes love the person. It’s reflected in the way these characters behave. They run around shouting and screaming at each other and then they are kissing and drinking Champagne.”

Shot in 21 days in Paris, the film is intended to capture the joy and improvisational style of groundbreaking New Wave French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard of “Breathless” fame. He shot on the fly, with hand-held cameras in available light on the streets of Paris without permits.

Michell not only re-creates the jubilant Madison dance from Godard’s 1964 “Band of Outsiders” but also uses his film’s title as a tip of the hat to Godard’s 1967 classic, “Weekend.”

“It’s sort of ‘Breathless’ for people who are so old, that is why they are breathless: They have run of breath,” Michell said, laughing.

Michell and Kureishi met in the 1970s as apprentices at the famed Royal Court Theatre in London.

“I was a very young, fledgling director assisting people like Samuel Beckett and John Osborne,” said Michell, 57.

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Kureishi, 59, said the theater is where he received his education, “so far as I have any.”

“I was a kid from the suburbs. I hadn’t really come into contact with anybody who worked in the arts before. That is when my life changed.”

The two were cordial but didn’t become friends until they collaborated on the award-winning 1993 miniseries “The Buddha of Suburbia,” based on Kureishi’s acclaimed novel of the same name.

After “Buddha,” the two worked on the 2003 film “The Mother,” starring Daniel Craig, before he was James Bond, as a handyman who has an affair with a grandmother. Michell and Kureishi also worked together on “Venus,” in which O’Toole played a lonely, elderly actor who meets a feisty teenager.

“Our relationship has lasted longer than most of our marriages and other partnerships,” Kureishi said.

Added Michell: “We are both in our late 50s and have lots of children. We both have lots to be grateful for and lots to be miserable about. We are united in the similarities between us and the differences.”

Corrected: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jean-Luc Godard’s name as Goddard in the subheadline.