Movie review: Summer Hours -- 4 out of 5 stars
In this film directed by Olivier Assayas, Chekhov relocated to an artist's cottage outside Paris, where fractious siblings debate the future of the family legacy. Classical craftsmanship, supple performances, lingering pathos. (Jeannick Gravelines, IFC Films / May 19, 2009)
The family is just as idyllic, just as sprawling -- an aged mother-art collector (Edith Scob), a son (Jeremie Renier) who works for Puma in China, a designer daughter ( Juliette Binoche) who lives and loves in New York.
And there's eldest son, Frederic (Charles Berling), an economist with a new book out. But Frederic is the one Mom passes on her "burden" to, the summer home the kids and grandkids won't be able to use, the art Mom's been guarding but which she knows Frederic and his siblings will have to split up and sell off.
Summer Hours is a serene, French spin on the worries of wills -- the hard feelings even civilized folk such as these sublimely civilized Frenchmen (and women) stumble into when the subject of inheritance comes up. Written and directed with sensitivity by Olivier Assasyas (he wrote the scabrous Boarding Gate) this begins gently, proceeds softly and exits with a sigh.
What Frederic recognizes that his mother (who dies early in the film) and his siblings don't is that what they're selling off here is a childhood, a past they can't get back. They can fill the house with noisy kids, but those visits aren't enough to justify the cost. With money always an issue, Frederic must make his peace with something Adrienne and Jeremie are willing to simply shrug off.
Binoche is the name here, and while she's interesting and well-preserved in her graying blond hair, it falls to Berling to carry the film. His brother and sister may have been hip to mom's true connection to the artwork, but Frederic is the one who realizes that even in death their mother is dominating their lives. That's what she wanted to spare him. Summer Hours, in French with English subtitles, has a lot of wistfulness, but not a lot of incident. But it connects, because while few of us have summer homes or art collections, we all do have family issues that come out after the will is read, no matter what the season. Summer Hours Four of five stars Cast: Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche, Jeremie Renier Director: Olivier Assasyas Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes Industry rating: unrated, mild profanity, smoking.