Olivier Assayas, one of the foremost contemporary French writer/directors, has woven together in Summer Hours a tapestry of a family drama that has great depth and power but is also unencumbered by portentous melodrama and stylistic overstatement. The film has such an understated touch that the enormity of its message, about how time unsentimentally turns the present into history, sneaks up on you. And it leaves you deeply moved, not because it’s manipulative (it isn’t at all) but because it so clearly rings of truth.
Helene (Edith Scobe), the 75-year-old matriarch of a family, lives in the countryside home of a deceased uncle, a painter, whose belongings are everywhere. It is a living shrine. But she knows it can’t always stay that way, so at a family gathering she pulls away her son Frederic (Charles Berling), a Parisian university professor, to point out where the valuable objects should go when she dies. And soon she is dead. Frederic tries to get sister Adrianne (Juliette Binoche), a New York designer, and brother Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), a businessman in China, to agree to preserve the estate. It’s not that they’re hostile, but their lives are global (a key point of the movie) and that’s just not a priority.
The film, which features wonderfully naturalistic performances throughout, intelligently watches how all this plays out — including the treatment of Helene’s longtime cook/housekeeper. Grade: B-plus
CINCINNATI WORLD CINEMA presents Summer Hours at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Carnegie Arts Center in Covington. Buy tickets and get venue details here.