For her 75th birthday, Helene's (Edith Scob) sons, Frederic (Charles Berling) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), bring their wives Lisa (Dominique Reymond) and Angela (Valerie Bonneton) plus their respective children, and her daughter Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) flies in from America. The widowed Helene lives in the country house of famous artist the late Paul Berthier, whose works and collection of antiques has to be passed on appropriately after her death. Indeed, it's not long before the siblings have to face this reality, made complicated by their differing needs. Carving up the estate, especially the house, brings out their different lifestyles and wishes. Teenage granddaughter Sylvie (Alice de Lencquesaing) comes to understand the importance of her late grandmother and the role the house played in her life.
Review by Louise Keller:
What defines treasure is the theme of this pensive portrait about memories, secrets and forgotten stories. The past, the present and the future all play a part in Olivier Assayas' film, in which a family has different views about the value of possessions and things from another era. A melancholy mood lingers throughout in this story centering on a beautiful French country home in which many joyous hours were spent in the summers of a now fractured family whose priorities are now different. The sentiments are valid, yet the execution keeps us at arm's length and the result is rather academic.
The opening scene captures the joie de vivre of youngsters searching for clues in a symbolic treasure hunt in the sprawling gardens of their grandmother's home. There's animated discussion over lunch as the family celebrates Hélène's (Edith Scob) 75th birthday. The only gift that interests Hélène is the newly published art book from her daughter Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) with reproductions of works by her beloved, now deceased artist uncle. It contains a photo taken many years ago, in which the courtyard table, at which they are all sitting, is shown in exactly the same position. But the notion that time does not change is fleeting. There's an underlying sadness as Hélène talks to her eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) about the inevitability of change and what will happen to the house and all its valuable artworks and collectables after hear death. He is the only one who seems to understand the value of the past, unlike Binoche's Adrienne and brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), whose lives are locked in the present with an eye on the future.
Like the family, the film feels fractured. There are jumps in time and after Hélène's death, when decisions need to be made, the siblings meet again to discuss material things. The performances are all excellent and much of the dialogue rings true. But we are not moved, except by one character. I loved every minute involving Isabelle Sadoyan's Éloïse, the old housekeeper, who understands that a vase, irrespective of how beautiful or valuable, is nothing without the flowers that make it a work of art.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Adoringly made by Olivier Assayas, Summer Hours has the atmosphere of provincial but sophisticated France in summer, peopled by a middle class family whose matriarch has guarded the works of art in her uncle's comfortable but bohemian country house. Her devotion to his sketches and other works is almost as great as to the valuable antiques dotted about. Her oldest son Frederic (Charles Berling) is the only one of the three children who lives close enough, in Paris, to be a regular visitor or to be able to take care of things on her death.
We are drawn into the family's ambiance, and begin to care about each of the characters, as well as about some of the works of art. The film, originating as it did with an abandoned idea in conjunction with the famous Musée d'Orsay, takes great pains to show off the antiques, and we even get a little guided tour of the place. This could have been rather clumsy, but Assayas manages to make it work.
The cast is outstanding; the three siblings, played by Berling, Binoche and Renier, deliver an ensemble performance of great complexity, yet with clearly defined characters. Binoche is especially striking in a characterisation that is internalised, minimalist, dry - yet likeable. Also adding greatly to the mood is a marvellous performance by Isabelle Sadoyan as Éloïse, the long-time housekeeper, who provides the most engaging emotional response in the film. And this underlines one of the flaws in the screenplay: for all the emotions that are coursing through the family, we are hardly moved - except by Éloïse.
The second flaw is the weakness of the story; it is unresolved, and the film relies on its primary and secondary themes - of legacy, continuity, memory, generational renewal, etc.
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SUMMER HOURS (M)
CAST: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, Edith Scob, Dominique Reymond, Valerie Bonneton, Isabelle Sadoyan, Kyle Eastwood, Alice de Lencquesaing, Emile Berling, Jean-Baptiste Malarte
PRODUCER: Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanel Karmitz
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
SCRIPT: Olivier Assayas
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eric Gautier
EDITOR: Luc Barnier
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 2, 2009