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Summer Hours

I first saw Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. I said that I was unimpressed with it, but noted that the festival’s hectic pace sometimes prevents smaller films of quality from having the effect on the viewer they might have in more contemplative conditions. Thankfully I had another chance to see it prior to its opening this week at the North Park, and found it to be a work of exceptional subtlety, delicacy, and poignancy.

Book-ended by scenes of children playing on the grounds of a country house, the film examines the place of this house in the lives of three people who were raised there. Their mother, Hélène (Edith Scob), inherited it from her uncle, a renowned painter and collector. She has maintained it as a shrine to his memory, but in the opening scenes confides to her eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) that she expects him to sell the place after her death. He demurs, saying that he will keeps the house as it is for future generations. But when the sad day comes, he is disappointed to find that his siblings (all are in their 30s and 40s) disagree. Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is a designer who lives in the United States, while younger brother brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) is raising his family in China, where he works for a company that makes cheap sneakers. Although the death of their mother brings out some family secrets, the drama of the movie is not in what happens but in observing these siblings as they come to a more clear-eyed perspective on their past. Perhaps ironically for a film that began as a project sponsored by a museum (Paris’ Musée d’Orsay), it also observes how objects created to be utilitarian—a cabinet, desk, armoire, vases, a tea service—come to lose their meaning when they are elevated to the status of “art.” Viewers who have followed Assayas’since his first international success, 1996’s Irma Vep, should note that this new film leaves behind the frenetic approach to the effects of internationalism that marked his recent trilogy of Demonlover, Clean, and Boarding Gate. Summer Hours, unlike the kind of movie we are used to seeing in the summer months, is a beautifully crafted gem of a film.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Summer Hours

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