One Week

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 13, 2015

One Week is pretty familiar, pretty famous by now, but sometimes, even when you know that it’s coming, you can’t quite believe what the director/actor/maestro just did. And maestro is the word, for all that this is Keaton’s first released directorial effort, and he was all of twenty-three years old. As a filmmaker he demonstrates the same facility with context and characterization, with compositions and transitions, with objects and gag constructs and an actual view of the world as does his character with tools and materials and the manipulation thereof.

As in The High Sign (q.v.), Keaton is transforming the period’s (Griffith, Chaplin) conventional, still pretty dominant visual strategy. Many shots are still plainly perpendicular, 90˚ camera-to-subject views of entire, proscenium-like rooms and spaces. But this isn’t theatre, for all the pretty great character things that can go on in those spaces (like the very dear honeymoon romance that so sweetly grounds all the comic invention). As Keaton commences to explore—thoroughly!—the house itself, his images start to resemble architectural renderings of geometrical spaces. Did Michelangelo Antonioni do this any more searchingly, any more comprehensively? Or, speaking of stratospheric modernists, these are also metaphorical, Beckett-like spaces—look at the absurd, elliptical treatment of the days of the week—capable of carrying all sorts of philosophical weight and providing all sorts of philosophical insight.

And the wonders never cease: when the spirit moves or circumstance dictates, Keaton effortlessly switches to a beautifully lucid pictorial classicism. There are traces throughout the course of the film (the drive away from the wedding ceremony), but it’s most clearly and admirably concentrated in this amazing conclusion. Look at the perfection of those last train shots, which pun about the illusion of depth while demonstrating the fluidity and interconnectedness of planes, of spaces, of the whole world. It’s a practically Greek ideal of decorum and beauty—which then gets blown to pieces. The miracle is that in the end Greece remains—look at the noble stoicism with which these youths meet their fate, and then walk bravely into their terribly shimmering future.