Nadine Trintignant's reflective, low-key "Next Summer" (at the Fine Arts) opens like countless other French films, with a large family gathering in the country in which everybody is tres, tres charmantes, and happiness and sunshine abound. "Days blessed by God," says the dark, gorgeous Dino (Fanny Ardant). "You wish they'd never end."
But it is not the nature of an idyll to last, and that of the Severin family proves as fragile as any other. Dino's stunning stepmother Jeanne (Claudia Cardinale) has just given birth to her sixth child when her accidental discovery of her husband's infidelity has drastic consequences for the family as a whole.
Director Trintignant keeps an eye on the clock while observing several Severin couples facing the day-to-day, year-in, year-out challenges of maintaining relationships while pursuing self-fulfillment. We understand Jeanne's protest to her serene husband (Philippe Noiret) that he no longer truly talks or listens to her; he is unapologetic for his flings while on business trips. We understand when Dino reacts with despair when her playwright-husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) announces simplistically that "a marriage needs surprise," implying that she's the one who has to come up with theirs.
What concerns the director is that her people are so caught up in various wrangles and hang-ups they tend to forget that precious time is passing. (The film's title, for example, comes from Noiret's perennial promise to take his family to America "next summer.") As is so often the case with families, it takes a crisis to reunite the Severins after seven years of going their separate ways.
But director Trintignant has neither profound insights nor a distinctive style, and as a result, "Next Summer" hasn't the impact of Bertrand Tavernier's somewhat similar "A Sunday in the Country." But it has warmth, an always-welcome French civility, an adult acceptance of the inevitability of change and loss, and best of all, a superlative, starry cast that includes Marie Trintignant as Cardinale and Noiret's eldest daughter, a concert pianist whose career is threatened by stage fright. "Next Summer" (Times-rated: mature for its serious themes) is a handsomely produced minor film that nevertheless offers considerable pleasure.
'NEXT SUMMER' A European Classics release of a Sara Films production. Producer Alain Sarde. Writer-director Nadine Trintignant. Camera William Lubtchansky. Music Philippe Sarde. Production designer Michele Abbe-Vannier. Film editor Marie Josephe Yoyotte. With Fanny Ardant, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claudia Cardinale, Philippe Noiret, Marie Trintignant, Jerome Ange, Christian Marquand. In French, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.