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SUMMER HOURS

Director: OLIVIER ASSAYAS

FRANCE • 2008 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 102 MIN


A MAJOR RETURN TO FORM BY ONE OF FRANCE’S FOREMOST FILMMAKERS, OLIVIER ASSAYAS’ LATEST IS BOTH A BRILLIANTLY OBSERVED EXERCISE IN POLITELY DYSFUNCTIONAL GENERATIONAL DYNAMICS AND AN ENGROSSING MEDITATION ON THE STATUS OF FRANCE’S CULTURAL HERITAGE.
A product of the same Musee d’Orsay initiative behind Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ‘Flight of the Red Balloon’, ‘Summer Hours’ also stars Juliette Binoche as a jet-setting designer who returns from New York for a family gathering to celebrate her mum Edith Scob’s 75th birthday at the tumble-down French country house she maintains as a shrine to the love of her life, a noted post-impressionist painter who bequeathed her his sketches and a collection of noted Art Nouveau furniture. As a sun-dappled meal unfolds in the garden, there are tricky questions ahead: eldest son Charles Berling wants the house for his own children, yet his brother Jeremie Renier is about to move to Beijing for business and would prefer his inheritance in cash, while Binoche senses her future too may lie overseas. Meanwhile, the spectre of significant inheritance tax is already looming.
Without ever resorting to over-pitched melodrama, Assayas draws us into the family’s plight by emphasising the universal issues at stake in the uncomfortable entanglement of duty, affection, remembrance and needing the dosh. The impeccable performances set a naturalistic tone, but as art-history specialists circle like vultures there are wider issues at stake, pondering whether museums actually preserve or merely fossilize the artistic achievements of the past for the following generations. Thoughtful, warm, and assembled with a classicist’s refined poise, this is quite an achievement.—Trevor Johnston.

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