Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Juliete Binoche, Edith Scob, Charles Berlin
Run Time: 103 min.
MPAA Rating: No Rating
Summer Hours is a film that is as much about family, memories and inheritance as it is about economy and globalization. It’s about love and loss of family, as well as love and loss of country. The topics are handled with such subtlety and earnestness that you’re blissfully unaware of not only being presented with these intense issues, but how effected by them you are. In a word, this is director Olivier Assayas’s MASTERPIECE.
It opens on a lazy, long summer day with kids playing along the French countryside. They eventually meet up with the rest of the family at their grandmother’s house. Hélène (Edith Scob)is the elegant matriarch of the family and the guest of honor for her 75th birthday dinner. During this gathering we glimpse Hélène’s cozy, casual country home full of beautiful and eclectic art and soft memories. The memories and the origins of the art derive from the family’s deceased uncle who is an artist. Her fondness for the artist and her sense of mortality surround her like the cashmere shawl gifted to her by one of her sons. We also sense the family dynamics between the three siblings, two brothers and one sister. They are all middle aged, living in different parts of the world leading busy lives. They love each other and have great affection for their mother but have no patience for her talk of death and inheritance.
A few short months later, Hélène has past and the siblings reunite for the funeral and to process their shock and grief. Grief quickly turns to misunderstandings and tensions as they sort through the inheritance. The elder son, Frédéric (Charles Berlin), an economist living in Paris, wants to hold onto his mom by keeping the country house and art for the family, but his siblings, while sensitive, are dismissive of the suggestion, preferring to sell it all off and divide the profits. This is where world economy seeps in: The younger brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) and his family live in Japan “because that’s where major corporate work is” as opposed to France. He has no need for the art and his kids have no need for weekends in the country. The sister, Adrienne (Juliet Binoche), works in art in the modern, happening cities of New York and San Francisco. She too is cavalier regarding France, her mother’s art or country home. With a heavy heart, Frédéric soon relinquish the battle for family history and fond memories, giving in to his siblings financial needs and emotional detachment. Instead, world renowned museums will battle it out for ownership of the art
Although this film is leisurely and quiet, it is never dull or pretentious. Although Mr. Assayas does not focus on details or plot out comprehensive character background and development, you never feel wanting. The acting is seamless and superb. The sibling’s interactions feel real and raw. The movie ends as it starts ... masterfully.