Monday, September 6, 2010

SUMMER HOURS (Olivier Assayas, 2008, France)

A Matriarch’s testament to her family is the eternal gift of love, like a memory of a dream half-forgotten then profoundly remembered, not locked in the hard value of objects diminished by emotional gravity.

Olivier Assayas’ familial dramaturgy at first seems a set piece for septic melodrama, where disparate siblings bicker and argue over heirlooms and inheritance, but it soon becomes apparent that this open ended narrative exceeds expectations. The characters live and breath outside the confines of the frame, dimensional and complex, each introduced but their intentions not readily understood. Assayas seems more interested in acceptance than rejection, as a family comes together but still retains a domestic democracy, living with decisions though not acutely agreeing with them. The plot doesn’t descend into a backstabbing foray of familial angst, where dark secrets taint siblings and manipulate compassion towards the director’s morality. Here, we must think for ourselves and SUMMER HOURS seems like a visit with an extended family, where we greet and offer heartfelt condolences, and suffer the loss of a parent in the ethereal jaunt of time.

The story is also about Art as a living product, inanimate and static when kept from human hands, like a valuable vase secreted away as a display piece while another serves a function, embracing flowers as an icon of remembrance, a centerpiece of love and memory. The rare furniture and artwork imprisoned by the museum loses its innate humanity, ignored by the churlish masses who wander briefly by. An apt metaphor for places and things that seem to hold childhood memories, forever lost to the ravages of entropy, but held eternally in the heart to be shared with others.

Final Grade: (B)


Samuel Wilson said...

I was lucky enough to watch this with time to spare and the right frame of mind. It rewards a patient viewer with its novelistic quality, managing to be both micro and macro at once. I also liked seeing that guy from the Dardenne movies playing a competent human being for once. The only other Assayas film I've seen is Irma Vep -- not quite proper preparation, but at least the director is 2 for 2 with me, with Summer Hours the better of the two.

Alex DeLarge said...

I liked IRMA VEP too and have to watch again someday to write about it. I also liked BOARDING GATE which is in my archives.