Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Hours (Rhoades)

“Summer Hours” Spans Generations

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My grandmother used to worry about how to divide her estate between her children. She’d sit with me and explain who should get what. I advised her to spend her money, that she’d earned it and her children didn’t need it. That advice did not make me popular with my mother and uncle.

In the end, when she died, things were distributed between her children as they decided. Grandchildren called dibs on antique tables and chairs and writing cabinets, with little regard for grandmother’s never-formalized plans.

I received an armoire which sits in my house here in Key West, my allotted bit of memory.

In “Summer Hours” (“L’Heure d’été”) – the French family drama currently playing at the Tropic Cinema – we see how heirlooms and objets d’art are scattered following a matriarch’s passing.

In this poignant subtitled study, Hélène (Edith Scob) gathers her grown children at their family estate in rural France, taking aside Frédéric (Charles Berling) to explain what she’s leaving to whom. After all he’s the stable professor of economy who lives in France, while his sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is a flighty artist living in the US and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) is a successful businessman in China.

Frédéric is uncomfortable with the conversation, but his mother is realistic that “memories, secrets, history” will die with her. Despite the son’s declaration that the home, scene of so many beloved childhood experiences, will stay in the family, a place for the grandchildren to gather, she wisely knows better.

Then, when Hélène dies shortly thereafter, the brothers and sister must decide what to do with the house and its contents. After all, they’ve moved on with their lives.

The house itself in “Summer Hours” is used as a metaphor for the dissipation of this family’s heritage – a museum-like repository for art created by a great uncle, rare tables and cabinets, valuables vases, and personal artistic journals. But by the end of the film the house has been reduced to an empty shell where teenagers gather to drink beer and play loud music, leaving little but a tearful memory for one of Hélène’s grandchildren.

This is the second in a series of films produced by Musee d’Orsay. You probably saw the first, “The Flight of the Red Balloon” (“Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge”).

Written and directed by Oliver Assayas, this is the better of the two efforts. Assayas manages to tell a simple story that is at the same time complex in its underlying emotions.

“Ultimately, what I am most interested in,” says Assayas, “is what contradicts what I have written because that’s exactly where real life moves into the film.”

“Summer Hours” is about real life. My grandmother would have identified with this theme of heritage and its loss among ongoing generations.

[from Solares Hill]

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