Whenever Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy continue their ever-progressing relationship as Jesse and Celine in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" series, they might look like Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as Nick and Meg Burrows in "Le Week-End." In this effervescent but never saccharine romance by director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (their fourth film together), a quick getaway to Paris becomes a sober reflection on 30 years of marriage.
As you may know, any couple together that long will have issues. Some are small, like a bathroom back home that needs remodeling. Others are larger, like the grown son, heard by phone but never seen, who keeps reinvading the nest. There's something more difficult to define, however, hovering over Nick and Meg: an all-encompassing dissatisfaction. Is it manageable, or is it terminal?
"Le Week-End," like the Linklater films, lacks a solid plot or even much structure -- yet it works beautifully. Its tone shifts with the characters' moods as they grapple with the petty pains and pleasures of tourism: a cruddy hotel, a spat that spirals into war, an excellent meal that restores the peace. (The film, shot in various stylish bistros, could be a dining guide.)
Of the film's two British stars, the dependably excellent Broadbent will be most familiar to Americans. Duncan, whose stage career began in the 1970s, has been less prominent in movies, though it's hard to say why. Elegant and eye-catchingly slim, she's as regal as a Redgrave and has the translucent beauty of Michelle Pfeiffer. Her Meg is a fascinating bundle of private contradictions: classy and coarse, cruel and sensitive, frigid but boiling somewhere inside. At 63, she's the film's most thrilling discovery.
Right behind her is Jeff Goldblum, who midway through "Le Week-End," steals it entirely as Nick's jocular friend Morgan, a successful author living in Paris with his child bride, Eve (Judith Davis). Goldblum, by turns charming, comic and tragic, hasn't been so marvelous in years.
Depending on your age -- Nick's MP3 playlist includes Bob Dylan and Nick Drake -- "Le Week-End" will hit you where you live. For the younger Jesse and Celine, it may be a glimpse of the near future.
PLOT A husband and wife mark their 30th anniversary in Paris.
CAST Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum
BOTTOM LINE A lovely movie, thanks to its three scintillating stars. Duncan, at 63, may be the year's most thrilling discovery.