In a small town, Hélène is a family matriarch who has devoted her life to preserving the legacy of her artist uncle. However, while her eldest son, Frédéric, wants to preserve her home after her passing, she harbors no such illusions as she prepares her legacy. After her death, her children realize what she anticipated as they come to terms with their inheritance's place in their own lives. In the resulting disposition of their mother's assets, treasured heirlooms of a romantic family past drift away even as their changing modern world confronts the value of their memories. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
SUMMER HOURS (L'heure d'été) is more of a reverie than a story for a film. This very French film touches the subject of family - the meaning and influence and contradictions - in an examination of coping with the death of the matriarch and her wishes versus the intentions of the siblings. Writer/Director Olivier Assayas seems less interested in allowing the viewer to get to know the individuals of the story than he is with conveying the vacuum of death and the aftermath of dealing with it in the setting of a family of grown children.
The film opens as it closes - in summer with scenes awash with French countryside living. Three children have gathered with their families for the 75th birthday of their mother, the elegant and wistful Hélène (Edith Scob) whose adoration of her famous painter uncle presses on her mind as she senses her own mortality. One son, Frédéric (Charles Berling) is her confidant in hearing her wishes about the dispersal of the house and furniture and art that mean so much to her. Her other son Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) has traveled from his new home in China where his tennis shoes company has stationed him: his fondness for his mother is apparent but his need for financing makes him view the wishes of his mother in a more practical light. Her daughter Adrienne (Juliet Binoche) has traveled from her preferred new home in New York City and views the wishes of her mother with a similar practical and somewhat distant stance.
Some time later the mother dies and the children gather for the funeral and for the discussion of what to do with the 'inheritance'. The interplay between the sentimental Frédéric and the pragmatic Adrienne and Jérémie bring about questions of placing the art and furniture with museums and the selling of the house of their youth. Gentle undertones of sibling relationships and questions about the quality of memorabilia versus the practicality of getting on with living provide the final movement. The film ends in a coda that returns the younger generation (Hélène's grandchildren) to the beauty of the gardens of the now empty French house. The thread that holds the film together is the presence of the longtime housekeeper Éloïse (Isabelle Sadoyan), the gentle being that understands it all.
Though the film is beautifully acted and photographed there is very little development of the various characters, a fact that leaves the viewer with the feeling of simply peeking through a windowpane to watch a French family walk through a moment in life and in death. Nothing much happens here: the film is more a reverie, but a very beautiful one to relax and enjoy. Grady Harp
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