16 June 2009

At the movies: Summer Hours (L'Heure d'Ete).

Following their mother’s death, three siblings, all with different homes, lives, and children of their own, must try and take the physical remnants of their family history and figure out what to do with them. So much love, so many lives, and so very many things- and there’s no way to keep everything. And there’s no way to keep everyone together.

Conceived as a piece commemorating the twentieth anniversary of France's Musee d'Orsay, Summer Hours (L'Heure d'Ete) finds director Olivier Assayas moving from his globalization trilogy (Demonlover, Clean, and Boarding Gate) to focus on family, and in the process he's made one of the most beautiful and restrained dramas of the year. We have one mother, three children, five grandchildren, two dogs, a housekeeper, and an exquisite country house filled with several lifetimes worth of memory and objects.

There are no big scenes, no flare-ups or crying jags, just a rapturous dive into the eddies and whorls of the time that we spend as families. What remains of someone once they've gone? Family bonds, and love, and security- these things are ephemeral. And who really decides what the tactile remnants of our loved ones mean? It is as remarkable an analysis of human behavior and the rippling, fragmented nature of death. With Juliette Binoche, the legendary Edith Scob (Franju's Eyes Without a Face), and Charles Berling.

Assayas has combined his interest in globalization with a rock-solid emotional center, refining his interests and making a film that gets under the skin of even those who were unaffected by his sleek technothrillers. Audiences all over the world have been transfixed by this subtle and moving effort, and even the staunchest stoic will be a little teary.

Summer Hours will resonate with anyone who has had to navigate estate taxes and sentimental values, putting prices on things once beloved and having to move out and move on. Never manipulative or venal, this film is graceful and haunting, and its final scene unforgettable.

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