Reviewed in brief: 'Le Week-End' and 'Particle Fever'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 4:16 PM
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The Atlas calorimeter at the Large Hadron Collider.

Photo: particlefever.com,

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Le Week-End
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and some sexual content.
Theater: Edina.

 

“Le Week-End” is a ruefully funny look at a long-term marriage. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan set aside their tedious academic lives in England for a quick nip over to Paris. There he hopes to rekindle their amorous spark, but the vacation becomes a marathon of comic-romantic pathos to rival “Cyrano.” There is sadness in this movie, yet director Roger Michell's picturesque view of Paris, and Hanif Kureishi's humane, platitude-free screenplay leave you feeling unreasonably happy.

The pair are sophisticated tourists, seeking out old haunts that thrilled them on past visits. Flinging caution into the Seine, they take a grand hotel’s presidential suite and dine at three-star restaurants. But this time, adolescent thrills are scarce. He’s phobic about overspending (there’s a serious reason for that). She is desperate for adventure, escapism and maybe escape from their relationship. As the less committed of the two, she holds the stronger cards. She may be bruise-able but he is breakable.

She gets a perverse joy out of setting every hurdle higher than the last. Soon they’re running out on their dinner tabs and facing a hotel bill as high as the Eiffel Tower. Just at their moment of need they cross paths with Broadbent’s old school chum Jeff Goldblum. Now a prominent intellectual, remarried to a gorgeous, pregnant young Frenchwomen, he represents every lost opportunity that bedevils them. He insists that they be guests of honor at a dinner party, where their frustrations go from sardonic to stratospheric.

Goldblum shines in this very Goldblum-y role. There’s a hawklike alertness about his gaze from behind narrowed lids, a quickness of comprehension one jump ahead of everyone else’s. Broadbent generates a discomfiting wit somewhere between laughter and wincing. Duncan, luminous, expresses the full human complexity of a middle-aged woman weary of her marital marathon.

The idea of the film, I think, is that to survive in a generations-long marriage you have to be either a person of exceptional sensitivity and intelligence or a holy simpleton. The sublime finale, with all three actors re-creating a hokey-pokey dance from their favorite New Wave film, shows that even if you’re going through the motions, you can do it with style and grace.

 

Particle Fever
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Suitable for all audiences.
Theater: Edina.

 

While I find the concerns of theoretical physicists hard to wrap my head around — I don’t understand how a can opener works — I thoroughly enjoyed “Particle Fever,” a documentary about the discovery of the Higgs boson.

That subatomic speck, long predicted to exist but not observed until 2012, provided tangible proof that the standard model of particle physics is correct. Like fitting the final piece into a vast jigsaw puzzle, it produced a cathartic outpouring of celebration among cerebral types.

Director Mark Levinson keeps the story’s emotional core in focus as he follows the Higgs hunters on the biggest and most expensive experiment in history. Working in partnership with celebrated editor-sound designer Walter Murch ("Apocalypse Now," “The English Patient”), Levinson makes the story accessible and entertaining for mainstream viewers.

The film revisits the controversies surrounding the construction of the Large Hadron Collider (begun and abandoned in the United States due to political opposition before Europe took on the task), which accelerates protons to nearly the speed of light in order to smash them together and shake loose the Higgs in the debris.

We witness a roller coaster ride of false starts and equipment failures. Levinson humanizes the researchers, and we feel their angst and joy. We see the effervescent enthusiasm of young American technician Monica Dunford, and the intellectual rivalry between Greek physicist Savas Dimopoulos and Iranian expat Nima Arkani-Hamed, who espouse mutually exclusive theories that the experiment will settle.

There’s a physics lesson here wrapped in a well-told story with engaging characters and an uplifting finale.

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