Summer Hours Review

L’Heure d’été, the latest film from Olivier Assayas, originated from a commission to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. As well as Assayas, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Raoul Ruiz and Jim Jarmusch were invited to participate in the creation of a series of short films, but in the event the project was abandoned by all but Hou, who developed his version of The Red Balloon into his own feature. Assayas, heavily influenced throughout his career by the Taiwanese director, similarly saw in the project an opportunity to reflect once again on personal and for him essentially French themes, themes that had gradually gone astray in to the kind of broad-based international filmmaking of his most recent films Clean and Boarding Gate.

As such the opening scenes of the film would appear to have little to recommend or hold the viewer’s interest but the fine performances of a strong cast playing out the drama of a family at their home in the country discussing what to do about the inheritance that their mother Hélène (Edith Scob) believes that she will soon be leaving behind, but there are deeper resonances in this rather Chekhovian situation. Divided into three significant scenes of family reunion that make up the larger part of the film, those gathered consider how to deal with the inheritance of the family home and its contents, precious furniture, objects d’art, paintings and sketchbooks that once belonged to their uncle Paul Berthier, a famous painter whose work is still of considerable importance, with a new book being published and with a retrospective of his work being organised in San Francisco.


Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), a designer is living in New York and doesn’t see herself coming back to visit the country house too often. Her brother Jeremie (Jérémie Renier), working in the footwear industry, is currently based in China with his wife and children, overseeing the factories where the goods are manufactured. It’s left to Frédéric (Charles Berling), an academic and economist based in Paris, as the elder son to make the difficult decisions on how to divide up the property, torn between pragmatic necessity and nostalgia for what the old house and its contents mean to them all, seeing them not as objects d’art, but as an everyday part of the household they grew up in.

It’s only when the film gets to its final two scenes, two scenes almost completely detached from the flow of the endless talky family drama that precedes it, that the full import and brilliance of the film is felt, those two scenes undoubtedly being the starting inspiration point for the director, who works back from there to give them depth and meaning. Returning to those themes, so prevalent in the director’s earlier work, of intergenerational conflict, youth, idealism, art, music, relationships, family and the impact that time, change, and modernity wreaks upon those beliefs and institutions, Assayas in his maturity as a filmmaker shows in Summer Hours the encompassing outlook of another great Asian director, Yasujiro Ozu. Painful though the realisation is, the heritage of the past cannot be denied, but must be respectfully put aside in order to allow youth - specifically French youth here - to find their own place in a rapidly changing world with new values.

Dates and locations of Summer Hours theatrical showings can be found at the Artificial Eye website.

Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:32:58

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