Monday, January 18, 2010

Summer Hours: Grade A

Summer Hours (2008)
Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, Edith Scob; Writer-Director Oliver Assayas. (French, subtitled).

An aristocratic matriarch (Scob) is joined at the family’s French country house by her three adult children (Binoche, Berling, Renier). It is full summer; colors are deep and the sunlight strong. The country house is a fabulous mansion. Although it is crumbling, with peeling wallpaper and crooked walls (as the best country mansions are), it is filled with museum quality furniture and valuable works of art (Corots, Redons, etc.). Grandchildren play in the meadows with carefree hearts. Dogs bark. A feast is spread on the long table outdoors and everyone eats, drinks wine, and tells stories about the family and gives presents to the mother on her 75th birthday. It has the same aching enchantment as the 1990 film, “My Father’s Glory” directed by Yves Robert.

When the matriarch dies, the siblings must deal with the estate. The heart of the story is the tension between their lifetime of fond memories at the country house, that they wish to replicate for their children, and the reality of busy, international lives that have little time for retreats in provincial France and in fact, need cash flow. Only one of the siblings lives in Paris, the others now live in New York and Beijing because of their jobs. As the country house and all its possessions are sold off, we witness the end of an era.

What makes all this more than mere sentimentality is the fine acting, insightful writing, and beautiful photography. It makes you realize that when you die, nobody cares about your lifetime of experiences and memories. Your precious mementos become just stuff that may have some cash value. The lifetime of meaning that each of us constructs is an egocentric vanity that quickly evaporates.

No comments:

Post a Comment