Review: ‘Summer Hours’
SUMMER HOURS is a talky new French film from director/writer Olivier Assayas (DEMONLOVER) about a family conflicted over what to do with their recently deceased motherâ€™s valuable art collection. Sounds exciting, huh? Did I mention that it was French (itâ€™s really, really French!)? A dialog-heavy minimal drama about art (in French!) is not something I normally would enjoy (I like the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake..â€¦a lot!) and I was not really looking forward to SUMMER HOURS. But expectations are a funny thing and I was a bit stunned at how satisfying this smart new drama is and how much it has stayed with me long after it ended.
SUMMER HOURS sharply observes the complex family dynamics that arise after a parent dies and siblings are torn by different needs with respect to their inheritance. A family, consisting of adult children FrÃ©dÃ©ric (Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and JÃ©rÃ©mie (JÃ©rÃ©mie Renier), and assorted grandchildren, gather at the longtime home of matriarch HÃ©lÃ¨ne (Edith Scob) to celebrate her 75th birthday. HÃ©lÃ¨neâ€™s home is full of museum-quality 19th and 20th-century modernist artwork and furniture, many created by her famous uncle. FrÃ©dÃ©ric is bothered when she insists on discussing arrangements for her death and sure enough, the film suddenly jumps to several months later and HÃ©lÃ¨ne has died. The balance of SUMMER HOURS deals with the process her three children face in dividing her assets in a pragmatic way while carrying out their motherâ€™s wishes. Adrienne and JÃ©rÃ©mie want to sell everything for practical reasons while Frederic is more concerned with the family legacy. There are no angry confrontations between the three as they treat each other with surprising respect and civility. When a dark family secret involving incest is revealed, the siblings are curious but no one gets hysterical. Itâ€™s a deceptively simple story, well-told and engrossing. The film is wise in examining principles and complications that happen when a new generation has to carry on what was important in a parentâ€™s life that has just ended. Itâ€™s also an interesting look at the way modern museums make acquisitions. The staff of Musee D’Orsay, the museum which wants to buy much of the collection, examines each of HÃ©lÃ¨ne items with a eye towards whether it will be in the best interests of the museum or not (SUMMER HOURS was apparently conceived as a project to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this museum).
SUMMER HOURS is strengthened by great work from itâ€™s cast. As the only daughter, Juliette Binoche, Americanized as a blonde, stands out as does Edith Scob (an actress who haunted me for years since she played a disfigured teen in HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS aka EYES WITHOUT A FACE fifty years ago) as HÃ©lÃ¨ne. In the small role as Adrienneâ€™s yank fiancÃ©e I was surprised to see Kyle Eastwood, who I hadnâ€™t seen on screen since HONKY TONK MAN in 1982. He looks (and walks and talks) shockingly like his dad here and even has sideburns like Clint wore in the early 1970â€™s. If youâ€™re looking for a break from loud summer blockbusters like STAR TREK and TERMINATOR SALVATION (both fine movies) SUMMER HOURS is something quiet and relaxed and I highly recommend it.
‘Summer Hours’ opens today in Saint Louis at Plaza Frontenac Cinema.
[Overall: 4 out of 5 stars]