Tuesday, 26 January 2010

What Would I Do With Something Valuable?

Much to my shame, I don't think I've ever seen a film by Olivier Assayas before. Looking through his filmography there are a number of titles I recognise, but I haven't seen them. The only one I feel I may have watched is Irma Vep years ago, but I don't think I watched the whole thing - I think I watched fragments of it in class. So, I took it upon myself to check out his latest, Summer Hours (or L'heure d'été), which I've been hearing a lot about over the last few months.

Three adult children are home for summer, camped out with their own children (if they have them) and spouses (if they have them) at their mother's home in France. Frédéric (Charles Berling) is the eldest, married with children, living in Paris; Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) comes next, an apparently single designer based out of New York; with Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) bringing up the rear, running footwear factories in China where he lives with his wife and kids. Their mother, Hélène (Edith Scob), who has just celebrated her 75th birthday, tells Frédéric that he will be in charge of her will when she dies, lets him know about a few hidden treasures and what should happen to her extensive art collection - her brother was an acclaimed painter, and Hélène has a vast collection of fairly significant art and furniture, as well as many of her brothers sketches and drawings.

Within the following year (one kind of assumes it is almost a year later, as it appears to be summer again, though it could simply be later in the same summer) the three children assemble again after the unfortunate and unexpected death of Hélène. They begin to discuss what to do with her estate. Frédéric imagines that the entire family will want to keep the house and collection intact, as a memorial and also a place for their own children to grow up, inherit and experience as they get older. However, Adrienne and Jérémie have other plans - Jérémie is moving permanently to China and needs to buy a house, Adrienne is getting married, and neither expect that they will be spending much time in France going forwards. The three children then try to come to a conclusion that makes all of them happy, as Frédéric realises his mother was quite probably correct when she said that it all should be sold and the three should move on.

It's a sweet film, but it's definitely a film for older audiences. It struck me in a similar way to The Barbarian Invasions, in that I think it is aimed at people older than me. However, since that earlier film, I have grown older and can now more easily relate to the loss of family members, meaning that the film did affect me in a greater way than I think it would have five years ago. Having said that, it is still a character piece, and there isn't a great deal of movement. But it works, on a slower and more sentimental scale than many films. The performances are all superb, and Assayas does delve into the younger generation briefly at the end, showing that Hélène's grandchildren do have more of a connection to the house and grounds than she may have realised. It's one of those films that I think my parents would enjoy, and that my brothers would hate. It's gentle, it's not groundbreaking.

3.5 stars.

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