January 11, 2010

MOVIES: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008 / US 2009)

An understated, wistful movie about the weight of things and our obligations to the past.
Three adult children must deal with the estate of their mother, whose uncle had been a painter and art collector of some moderate renown. It will fall to Frederic to handle the details, as the other two siblings live abroad; their mother had urged him to sell the estate, or donate the art to a museum, so that the family would not be burdened with the upkeep of a summer home that is only rarely used. Frederic, however, wants to keep the home and the art intact, to be handed down to the next generation.
There's a layer of subtext throughout about globalization and how French culture is to survive if the nation's best young minds continue to leave the country, and whether culture can truly be said to "survive" if it's placed in a museum instead of used and lived in.
The four central performances are all superb. Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, and Jeremie Renier are utterly believable as siblings, both physically and emotionally; their conversations about how to handle things after their mother's death feel spot on, just the right mix of emotion and rationality. Edith Scob radiates dignity as their mother; she is not always the warmest person, but there is no doubt that she loves her family -- the current generations as well as those who came before -- and wants what is best for all of them.
Not available on DVD yet, but Netflix has it for instant streaming. Well worth your time.

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