French director Olivier Assayas (BOARDING GATE, IRMA VEP) subverts expectations with this empathetic drama about the fading relevance of objects as generations pass from one to the next. Helene (Edith Scob) has just turned 75 and is increasingly concerned about the particulars of leaving her estate behind when she dies. Unfortunately, the time comes when Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), and Frederic (Charles Berling) must decide what to do with Helene's house and the artwork left behind by her famous uncle. Adrienne, who is living in New York City, and Jeremie, who is working in Asia, both understand that their future no longer resides in France, leaving the burden to Frederic. However, even when the siblings are at odds, they don't succumb to fighting. They seem to understand and accept that this is an unfortunate, muddled situation, and as much as they'd love to hold on to the house, it appears that their current situations carry more of an influence than the lives of their nostalgic past.
With SUMMER HOURS, Assayas has delivered an understated motion picture about the importance of objects as historical artifacts and family heirlooms, and how time renders these objects obsolete. Contrary to the dysfunctional family dramas of fellow countryman Arnaud Desplechin (A CHRISTMAS TALE, KINGS AND QUEEN), Assayas keeps his characters calm and stable throughout. He isn't condemning these individuals for turning their backs on the past, and he certainly isn't out to belittle the importance of these objects' places in history. Shot by the acclaimed Eric Gautier and flawlessly acted by its principal cast, SUMMER HOURS is a touching, thoughtful drama.
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