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Thursday, February 3, 2011

L’HEURE D’ETE / SUMMER HOURS (2008)


In Olivier Assayas’s carefully observed, quietly emotional film, Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling & Jérémie Rénier play dissimilar siblings who have to divide the family estate after their mother dies. The ‘summer’ house had traditionally called them (and their growing families) together for holiday gatherings & long weekends, but now just one of them is still living in France. And their task is only made tougher because the grand old place is something of a national treasure. Their Great Uncle was a renowned painter and the house is loaded with museum-worthy furniture & artifacts. Told in a series of simple, direct scenes that play beautifully against the complexity of the situation, Assayas refuses to push easy emotional buttons or to pump up the dramatics. Perhaps the extended opening scene, their last family gathering with Mom, could have benefitted from a more formal shooting style to help catch the mood of enforced relaxation amidst the careful filial bonhomie. But the strength & dignity of Assayas’s conception comes thru well enough. And when he does stoop for a minor note of false irony (the beloved housekeeper takes a ‘worthless’ keepsake that’s actually quite valuable), it’s almost a comforting gaffe. A Ron Howard moment in a film that largely shows how fraudulent most Hollywood domestic stories are.

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