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This film has little, if any, merit. I do not think it was the film
maker's intention, but it turns out to provide a strong case for the
abolition of a whole class in society, namely the bourgeoisie. I guess
in that case you could argue that it serves a useful purpose.
The only character to elicit any sympathy is the housekeeper Eloise, whose part is regrettably small. The rest of the characters are two dimensional and not even Frederic, played by Charles Berling and the nearest any actor comes to a protagonist, is given much depth.
I hesitated before ticking the 'contains spoiler' box as there is virtually no plot to spoil. There is no dramatic tension and no interesting contrasts or tensions between the actors, despite generational and career differences, and the fact that Frederic, an economist based in Paris, finds himself in a minority regarding his mother's estate, is fairly easy to anticipate. The only reason you would want to meet any member of this family is to steal one of their valuable objets d'art.
The direction and photography are plodding. Art would appear to be central concern of the film maker but the cinematography is so poor that for instance we never get to properly see the two paintings by Corot or fully appreciate the other art objects and pieces of furniture that end up in the Musee d'Orsay.
There is no interesting philosophical case, within the dialogue or otherwise, for works of art being displayed in museums or kept at home or sold at auction despite these matters being the main subject of the dialogue during much of the film. There is actually something rather dead and depressing about the whole movie even the children are feckless, and maybe that is the director's intention. I left the cinema feeling I had been neither entertained, nor my mind stimulated.
I hope that this dull film is not representative of current French cinema. Don't waste your time or money watching it.
L'heure d'été (2008) written and directed by Olivier Assayas, was shown
in the U.S. as "Summer Hours." It's a very French film--beautiful to
look at, extremely artistic and sophisticated, with realistic dialog
and a quiet, thoughtful plot.
The film opens with a flashback of three young children running through a beautiful rural estate, and ends with (older) children running through the same estate. The home and grounds belong to Hélène, who is being visited by her three grown children. Hélène is played by the remarkable and attractive Edith Scob. Hélène lives in the house with her housekeeper and companion, Éloïse. Éloïse is played by veteran actor Isabelle Sadoyan. Ms. Sadoyan is in her 80's, and she adds a solid, rural presence to the film. It's not that she's slow--she's as quick and intelligent as any of the family members. However, they are intellectuals and she's not. She's shrewd, dedicated, and able to manage problems with equanimity.
The plot revolves around the need to decide the fate of the house and grounds. The three siblings have different views about the decision. Each has to balance money to be acquired immediately if they sell, as opposed to keeping the house in the family for use by their children. Although they have diametrically opposed views, they deal with the situation in a mature, caring fashion, and majority rules.
This is a peaceful, thoughtful film. There's no obvious climax or denouement. However, the decision the siblings make will forever alter their lives, and the lives of their children.
The sister in the trio of siblings is played by Juliette Binoche. Whenever she appears in a film, we assume it's a "Juliette Binoche film." That's incorrect in this case. She's a strong presence, and an excellent actor, but this is an ensemble film, and her performance doesn't stand out from the others.
"Summer Hours" will work better on a large screen, because of the incredible beauty of the setting. However, it's still worth seeing if it's available on DVD.
"Summer hours" is a family drama which may aspire to be deep and
inspirational, but has not been greeted with too much success mainly
due to the lack of a real plot and coherent structures bonding the bits
The technique of demonstrating the difficulty in passing virtues or anything from generation to generation by portraying various unlovable characters may find its point and maybe, some success, but probably makes viewers a bit uncomfortable during the viewing. Indeed the linkage of relationships between generations is rather weak and could have been much more elaborate.
The ending sequence of the third generation holding a party with loud rock music in the house is a bit random and may blur the focus of the film. The eventual expression of sadness by the grand-daughter may even seem slightly out of place as we don't really know much history between herself and the house (we were told about her propensity to certain bad behaviour though). And numerous parts of the film reminded me of a more successful member of the same genre - "My favourite season" (just found out even the names of the 2 movies are quite similar). This really leads to a justifiable contrast in favour of the older member I presume.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Olivier Assayas' film Summer Hours is very French and very much without
any real 'hardcore' melodrama. That is to say we do not get scenes
where a family yells at each other in grief or anything like that. This
is more steeped in realism, so all the drama is based on little things,
the details: what happens to the objects that have been in possession
of the family house for years and years after the matriarch dies? What
are the objects worth, or can they be sold or given away, or kept
within the family? Or should the house even be sold at all? It's these
little things, that are actually quite large and looming in the
consciousness of a family that has just lost their mother/grandmother,
and makes up the bare minimum of dramatic conflict in the film.
It's basically about three siblings, one lives in France, another in New York, and another in China. They barely can get altogether to see their 75 year old mother, who was once a very prominent artist and coming from a genius painter. The mother dies (this is not a spoiler since, frankly, it has to mentioned), and then the kids have to decide what to do next with her estate. This is stuff that usually one wouldn't think could make for compelling stuff, and indeed if there is a weakness it may be that his film is a bit, how to say simplistic: talky. Yes, it's a lot like a play (one critic compared it to Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, which I could see in the sense of it being about quibbling among siblings), but only so often do we see some real artistry on the part of Assayas. He's too busy giving us real life, which is only as occasionally really interesting as he thinks it is all the time (indeed we even get some limited familial drama with the Parisian father and his rambunctious teenage daughter who gets arrested).
Oh sure, if you love French cinema, and Juliette Binoche, it's worth your time... actually, Binoche is only in it for a third of the running time, but you shouldn't be expecting a big high-emotional drama, save for a few moments here and there. There's even a touching end, as a party takes place at the house and the teenage girl remarks simply "My grandmother is dead, her house is sold" and goes on her merry way. Little things like that stand out, but you have to watch for them, or they'll slip away. Like memories.
There's a plot here, but not much drama because there's no real
conflict. Although the oldest son Frederic (Charles Berling) wants to
keep their late mother's idyllic country cottage an hour's drive from
Paris, filled with art nouveau furniture, bric-a brac and paintings,
the other two children, Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) and Adrienne (Juliette
Binoche) don't have the same attachment to the place, having formed
other attachments and moved overseas. But Frederic doesn't want to
fight his siblings and acquiesces, so the place is sold and the more
valuable pieces snapped up by the Musee D'Orsay (which helped produce
the film) in lieu of death duties. Frederic's wish that the place
remain with the family was doomed from the start because as the family
lawyer points out Mother (an elegant Edith Scob) refused to do any
estate planning which might have left enough money for Frederic to buy
the others out. Instead the house is sold and the Musee gets the best
pieces which become cold, pristine museum objects instead of fondly
regarded family furniture.
Despite the lack of drama, this is a very evocative film for anyone who has had to deal with the aftermath of their parent's death. . The disposal of physical objects also symbolizes the weakening of family feeling. Mother had artistic connections her favorite uncle was a well-known painter who left her the house and contents but little of this sensibility is passed on witness the grandchildren's reaction to the Corot landscapes in the house. The film is beautifully photographed and the hand-held camera work entirely appropriate although occasionally claustrophobic. The ending is surprisingly upbeat it seems at least some of the new generation have inherited some finer feelings.
One thing I did discover backgrounding this movie is that French inheritance law actually fixes the minimum amount that must be left to the family. In a situation like this with three children each child must get at least 25% of the estate, with the remaining 25% to be left at the testator's discretion. Also it seems that family companies are widely used to avoid inheritance taxes; there are also other dodges including joint ownership and the "tontine", whereby the last survivor gets the lot (remember that great British comedy of the 60s, "The Wrong Box"). It is of course not in Musee D'Orsay's interest to canvass such matters. Down here in Australia we abolished inheritance taxes 30 years ago makes life, and death, a lot simpler.
This film, unfortunately is just another one of those sentimental and
kitchy 'French' family dramas, bourgeois of course. With a camera that
can't keep still for a second, that always has to follow one or the
other person uttering platitudes over platitudes trying to inject
'energy' into a very very dead script. Not to mention the myriads of
'stories' told here - stories that are faster dropped and forgotten as
one can count to two. There is absolutely no substance and
sugar-coating will not make the cake taste any better.
And before anyone starts pondering why the hell this film acts and looks like a commercial, here's the spill: it is a commercial. The 'work' was commissioned by Paris' Musee d'Orsay! Why a state-owned and tax-financed museum finds it has to go into the movie business doesn't even deserve a discussion - it's a bad joke. The bureaucrats in this museum - as one can see in this film - seem so utterly bored they think movie glamor is going to help them.
A very sad tale indeed.
I've just seen this film in Sydney after reading some wonderful comments about it in the paper. I was torn between many things during the screening. My would be inheritance as (an ex-Frenchman)where I supposed to be educated and appreciative of art and culture, even in my own mind. My like of family tie, my lack of possession or knowledge concerning art objects. Thus whilst watching this film I was wondering why I should like it or being involved with its premise, when really it did not relate to me and yet perhaps it should have. My next thoughts was for those who did not know much about French culture apart from being arrogant, eating snails and frogs, who perhaps bought most of their furniture from "Ikea" stores and lived their life where ever. How would they associate with the bombarding of most likely unknown (to them) artists and styles? I did enjoy some beauty in this film, but it took far too much time to tell the story. So I really left the theater, possibly a little angry and hungry for more. I think these type of movies should have their own spoiler such as, for this one: "give it a go if you want to know a little more about French art and culture and it also comes with a touching story too".
The lament of the Marlys can never strike any resonance in Hong Kong.
We live in constant construction and demolition. Old houses? Old vases?
Old painting? No one cares about them unless they sell well with good
money return. Embracing the new (mostly technology and money), living
the moment, forgetting the past, pulling down the old buildings for new
glassy-window high rise (= money, money, money), dumping all those used
, our usual behaviour. Past is past, never mind. Out of sight, out
of mind, no regret of its disappearance, no matter that's people,
object, time or whatever. Sorry, sorry, in a city of super fast pace,
no time and no need and no habit to think about history, to study
history. Today, nostalgia, heritage are too expensive to a place where
people only live "this absolute right moment", so, don't ask me to plan
for the next and don't ask me to reflect the past. We only look forward
and forget all that has happened.
A 100% correct decision of the brothers and sisters: send every "valuable" object to the museum because today, no one, normal people, intends to live in a museum.
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