Summer Hours

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Posted May 14, 2009 in Film

Three grown siblings—Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frederic (Charles Berling) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier)—are forced to value their great uncle Paul’s legacy after the death of their mother (Edith Scob), the keeper of his estate and his rumored secret lover. Due to generational decay, their family line is rich with treasures that have lost sentimental value; when Adrienne and Jeremie look at the expensive paintings, they don’t see that time their ancestor did a favor for the great painter Corot, they see dollars. Frederic, the eldest and the only child still living in France, would rather maintain the countryside family home as a museum benefiting no one—he rarely has time to visit from Paris and Adrienne and Jeremie live further still on separate continents. Olivier Assayas’ (Irma Vep, Boarding Gate) film sounds melodramatic, but instead focuses on the very polite way people agree to things against their interest. It’s all very civil and inexorable—unlike a stateside version; we know there will be no last-minute car wash or concert fundraiser to save the estate. But though Assayas clearly mourns France’s history, now being fragmented in American auction houses, on the objects that represent that history, he seems divided. The argument—a strong word for a film where the richly realized characters rarely raise their voices—is about the greater good: Is a valuable vase better served in a shuttered house for the family’s next generation, or displayed in a museum for all? The film is too unsparing to pretend that either answer is right, and in a closing scene we see that very vase which has caused a family such anxiety labeled and preserved next to dozens of other glass antiques in a museum where the visitors don’t give it, or its history, a second glance.

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