Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, Edith Scob, Dominique Reymond, Valérie Bonneton / Fiction / French
When a family fractures, what happens to the heirlooms?
?Olivier Assayas’ work has ranged from the stylish filmmaking satire Irma Vep (on which he met his now ex-wife, Maggie Cheung), to the solemn space-age eroticism of Demonlover, the tender, talky simplicity of Late August, Early September, and the rock’n’roll lament of Clean. This edgy, ambitious director here embraces a more conventional register of French filmmaking: the articulate, emotional, high-gloss ensemble drama. Summer Hours centres upon the efforts of a bourgeois French clan to decide the fate of the heirlooms left by the departed matriarch (played by the legendary Edith Scob). The film was in fact commissioned by the Musée d’Orsay – which has the presence of an additional character throughout – and Assayas gives considerable attention both to the value of art in contemporary life and to its dual status as private acquisition and public resource. We share the family’s ambivalence as they decide the fate of long-treasured items: are beautiful things to be held or shared? Is the heritage of a family – or a country – fixed or mutable?Human interaction, however, is the film’s chief concern, and in particular the fraught relationships between adult siblings with little common ground barring the uncomfortable demands imposed upon them by family occasions and joint responsibilities. Juliette Binoche – who is very enjoyably riding the transition from gorgeous ingenues to substantial, complex older characters (see also Paris, p 69) – is Adrienne, whose departure to live in New York has left some resentment behind; Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier are her brothers, who have some tensions and frustrations of their own. With echoes of Rohmer in its extended conversational scenes, and a cast of actors who embody their characters with absolute assurance, this is an effortlessly classy and intellectually stimulating piece of work.
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