Time Stamp in Weekend: 1:21:56 – 1:23:52
In “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d’Est,” Peter Wollen cites Godard’s preference for enacting “multiple diegesis” within his films as one example of the oppositional quality of his “counter-cinema” in relation to classical Hollywood filmmaking (369). Though Wollen’s article primarily addresses a later period of Godard’s work, the principle of multiple diegesis is already at play throughout Weekend (1967) in a very literal sense. As Wollen himself mentions, the sort-of-but-not-really protagonists freely encounter and interact with characters from a multiplicity of otherwise unrelated “worlds,” including the author Emily Brontë, the historical figure Saint-Just, and Dumas’s (semi)fictional creation, Joseph Balsamo.
While the “interlocking and interweaving of a plurality of worlds” (369) undeniably plays a crucial role in the film’s composition, it is by no means the only diegetic manipulation with which Godard engages his work. In the brief scene beginning at 1:21:56, which occurs shortly after Corinne and Roland have been kidnapped by wood-dwelling cannibals bent on the destruction of bourgeois society, Godard suspends the forced heterogeneity of the multiple diegesis in favor of a momentary emphasis on the affective implications of a single, unified world. Throughout the scene, the camera maintains a fixed distance, holding a long shot for its entire duration. After focusing for several seconds on the entering troop of bandits and their hostages, the beat of a drumset playing alongside and over the visuals, the view pans right to expose a pile of tires and another member of the outlaw band; a few seconds later, the camera repeats the movement, this time revealing that the percussion has, in fact, been diegetic all along as another bandit is shown playing a drumset, which he subsequently relinquishes to a compatriot. Another slight pan right occurs before the camera abandons that particular view altogether, slowing moving right and down to display a blood-spattered butcher preparing the cannibals’ meal. Finally, the camera reverses directions, following the movement of one of the outlaws to the left, and suddenly, we’ve been thrown back into our previous positioned perspective, watching the drummer play before the scene quickly fades to black and cuts to an intertitle.
Far from displaying the fragmentation and disassociation that characterizes the temporal and spatial topography of Weekend in general, this particular sequence instead commits itself to David Bordwell’s notion of an “encyclopedic survey of the film’s world” (582) — or, at least, a survey of the film’s rather spasmodic world at it exists in this single, isolated moment. Bordwell highlights this particular mode of cinematic relationship to the diegetic space as a defining feature of the art cinema film, and indeed, the aforementioned scene features a number of the technical devices Bordwell (à la Bazin) notes as commonly employed in art cinema to represent “a realistic continuum of space and time” (583), such as deep space and the moving camera. Characters enter, exit, reenter, and reexit the frame of reference, temporarily designating the physical world of the film as an autonomous, unified space, fully inhabited and firmly located in continuous time. Despite the surrealist use of a composite diegesis and the self-conscious narrative evocation of the work’s own medium (the characters frequently acknowledge that they exist in a film), the physical space in which Weekend unfolds, at least, is capable of reality.
While the stylistic techniques used in the formation of this sequence result in a reification of the diegetic world on a temporal and spatial level, it’s also evident that Godard intends them to serve a cinematic purpose beyond simple “objective… verisimilitude” (583). Like the works of the art cinema whose formal and thematic attributes Bordwell sketches, Weekend relies in part upon an inherent tension between “realism” and “authorial expressivity” (585). In this scene and others like it, however, the film never attempts to mediate this tension with the art cinema solution of “ambiguity” (585); rather, it glories in the friction, underscoring the uneasy encounter between diegetic and non-diegetic influences within the matrix of the text and elevating it to a needling confrontation in which the spectator ultimately becomes the victim. Each time the camera moves, it reveals the film-world to be more comprehensive and defined than we initially thought, but nonetheless, it’s a world to which we have limited access. The camera’s careful control of perspective (and Godard’s presumed authorial expression of which it is a reflection) allows the viewer to see only what it wants, when and how it chooses. We have the sense that wider life is continuing to unfold around and behind the limited window of action to which we are privy; the drummer has been, is still, and will continue to be drumming once the camera drags us away, the butcher is still butchering, but it all seems to occur just beyond our periphery of sight, leaving us craning for an impossible view of the unseen until such time as the camera grants us permission. As Godard palpably escalates the realism of the diegetic space, he simultaneously foregrounds the artificiality and limitations of the cinematic form, forcing his viewer into the role of unwitting captive at the mercy of the camera’s gaze.