Summer Hours

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Starring Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, and Edith Scob. In French with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, June 19, at the Ridge Theatre

Although his films are rarely fast-paced (and those that are rank among his least successful), Olivier Assayas is an intensely modern filmmaker, as one might expect from someone who began making his own movies almost as soon as he started writing reviews for Cahiers du cinéma.


Watch the trailer for Summer Hours.

At first glance, therefore, Summer Hours would appear to be a change of pace for this intensely present-tense director, but appearances can be deceiving. Most of the action takes place in the country house of Hélí¨ne (Edith Scob, delivering what is perhaps her most majestic performance to date). On her 75th birthday, this quietly imposing matriarch has a premonition of mortality and informs her eldest son, Frédéric (Charles Berling), about his options in the event of her death. The place is chock full of art treasures (including two Corots), and the grounds look they were painted by an Impressionist master, but the true focus of this inhabited museum is, and always has been, on the life and work of Hélí¨ne’s beloved uncle, an artist whom this septuagenarian seems to have idolized up to the point of incest (her late husband being a nonentity who rarely gets mentioned or even remembered).

This end of an era affects not only Frédéric, Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), and Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) but their own children as well. While trying to dispose of the relics of the past, everyone must contend with such contemporary phenomena as shoplifting and global deracination (only one of Hélí¨ne’s children now has a strong connection to France).

The brilliance of this film lies in its attention to tiny details (the teenager who gets nailed for smoking dope is also a guardian angel to her younger cousins) and in its determination to allow each emotion just the right amount of space. In some ways, it’s an easy film to overlook, but that says more about the coarseness of our own reactions than it does about the director’s sensibility. Summer Hours is both truthful and beautiful. Who could ask for more than that?

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