L’heure d’été (Summer Hours)

L'heure d'été (Summer Hours)

L’heure d’été (Summer Hours) (Director: Olivier Assayas): On the one hand, Summer Hours has been get­ting some of the strongest reviews of the year, and yet in some quar­ters it is being derided as “the fur­niture movie.” Let me explain.

Hélène (Edith Scob) is the mat­ri­arch of a large exten­ded fam­ily. Her daugh­ter Adrienne and sons Frédéric and Jérémie visit her in her coun­try home per­haps twice a year. Her uncle was a fam­ous painter and so the house is filled with valu­able objets d’art; paint­ings and fur­niture are both every­day objects and valu­able art pieces. She pulls aside eld­est son Frédéric (Charles Berling) dur­ing a fam­ily visit to speak to him about what should be done with all these things after her death. He doesn’t want to listen. Of course we’ll keep the house as it is, he tells her, for them and their chil­dren. But when she dies unex­pec­tedly, it turns out that his sib­lings have dif­fer­ent feel­ings.

Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) works as a designer in New York City and is con­stantly in motion. She treas­ures her memor­ies but has no attach­ment to the things now that her mother has gone. Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) works as a plant man­ager in China and has settled there with his wife and chil­dren. He needs money to buy a big­ger house. So the push and pull begins over what to do with everything. Considering some of the cri­ti­cism I’d heard, I expec­ted this to be petty, but it def­in­itely is not. This fam­ily loves each other deeply, but their lives have taken them to dif­fer­ent places.

Assayas’ film poin­tedly asks us what our “stuff” actu­ally means to us. Hélène laments that when she goes, so much goes with her. Each object in her house has a his­tory that only she can tell. The children’s memor­ies are dif­fer­ent, less attached, and the grand­chil­dren hardly know the place at all. The film is a mov­ing med­it­a­tion on grow­ing old and leav­ing the world. When each per­son dies, she takes many things out of the world forever. Though the objects are left behind, their life has gone with the per­son who held their story. In the end, objects, even beau­ti­ful ones, are only objects when their stor­ies have been for­got­ten.

Far from being a movie about fur­niture, Summer Hours is about human beings and their abso­lutely unique con­tri­bu­tions to the world. I could not watch this film without think­ing every second of another film. Mia Hansen-Løve, Assayas’ wife, dir­ec­ted the sim­il­arly power­ful Le père de mes enfants (The Father of My Children) (review). Not only do they share a sim­ilar theme, but both fea­ture the lovely and mag­netic Alice de Lencquesaing, who has a very bright future ahead of her. As well, both dir­ect­ors have an incred­ible way of work­ing with their act­ors, coax­ing per­form­ances of real depth. Though I don’t think Hansen-Løve’s film has yet received the acclaim it deserves, the two films would make a won­der­ful double-bill.

Official site of the film


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