Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été, France 2008)

September is International Film Fest month in several Canadian cities.  Kicking off was the prominent TIFF (Toronto, world’s largest FF), now’s the CIFF (Calgary), and later on in the month, the VIFF (Vancouver).  Last year I was able to catch a glimpse from each one of these events.  But this year I’ll just stick with Calgary.

Went to see French director Olivier Assayas’ (Paris, je t’aime, 2006; Clean, 2004)  Summer Hours last night, the only screening in Calgary.  Writing the script himself, Assayas has created a film so realistic that it seems like a docudrama.  The story is about three adult siblings dealing with the estate of their mother (Edith Scob), a treasure house filled with objets d’arts, from furniture to vases, paintings to artist notebooks.  It’s a visual delight for the art lovers in the audience, albeit the camera doesn’t stay long enough for us to savor… I’d love to see more close-up lingering shots of the notebooks.

What’s realistic of course is, while the objects can easily be passed on from one generation to the next, the emotions and sentiments associated with them cannot.  The eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) wishes to leave the house as is so everyone in the family can still stop by and cherish the memories, but his other two siblings think otherwise.  Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) works as a designer in New York and is soon getting married.  Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) works with a sports manufacturing company in China and is settled there with his family.  Though all appreciate the memories of their childhood home in France and the artifacts within, they have their own life to live and family to raise elsewhere.  Their decision of how to deal with their mother’s estate is a practical one, sell it.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the honorable recipient of these personal treasures.  Actually, Assayas was commissioned by the Museum to create the film in celebration of its 20th anniversary.  Here we see the pathos of turning family heirloom into museum pieces, albeit handled gently and meticulously by the staff.  Herein lies the crux of the film.  Assayas has depicted the human side of objets d’arts that we see in museums, how they could have been everyday household items, a table on which notes have been scribbled and letters written, a vase that has held many cut flowers from the garden.  These have been objects used and enjoyed privately by families, but are now desensitized, hung or displayed in a public arena.  The personal and subjective experiences could never be captured by the public eye.

The last scene is a closure for the pain of letting go.  The teenage grandchildren have one last chance to enjoy the house and its idyllic setting as they hold a large party for their friends.  The young immerse themselves in loud music, dancing, doping, and dipping in the pond, unaware of the passing of one era to the next.  A brief moment of sadness takes hold of the oldest granddaughter, as she savors a lingering memory in the garden.  She is joined by her boyfriend for a brief reminiscence and the next moment, they quickly dash back to the house to rejoin the party.  Assayas has painted the poignant in a most subtle manner.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

4 thoughts on “Summer Hours (l’Heure d’été, France 2008)”

  1. Arti ~

    I just stopped by to say hello, and that I’m alive, indeed, and thank you for being in touch during the “recent unpleasantness”, but I was caught by this: “while the objects can easily be passed on from one generation to the next, the emotions and sentiments associated with them cannot.”

    I recently got into a bit of an emotional/verbal tussle with someone while talking about the pain of seeing “my boats” tossed about by Hurricane Ike. His comment was, “It’s just stuff”. I went as close to ballistic as I ever do (though not publicly) and finally came to the realization that the vessels are themselves vessels for memories, emotions and sentiments. While he was right that a boat can be replaced, those memories cannot – so while the things destroyed by a hurricane are “stuff”, indeed, they never are “just” stuff.

    I’m glad to be back, and glad to be thinking about something other than where my next tank of gas is coming from. My home is fine, and I began the process of rebuilding my business yesterday. Now, I can look forward to catching up with your wonderful blog, too!

    Linda: I’m so relieved to hear from you, knowing that you’re safe and sound despite the devastation from Ike. Glad to know that your “stuffs” are fine and that you do have a home to go back to. On a smaller scale, I have a taste of how you feel. During the renovation of my house this summer, I’ve packed almost everything in the basement, except the books on the shelves in the family room, which I thought would not be touched by the renos. Later we decided to let the workers restain the shelves and they said they would bring the books down to the basement for us, so we just left them some empty boxes. What a mistake that was! I came back a few weeks later to find my books were just thrown and callously strewn about on top of other “stuffs” in the basement. That’s right, they were just stuffs, but they were “my books”… stuffs that carry with them sentiments, memories, and a lot of thoughts. To cushion the shock, I needed to mentally “re-prioritize” a bit.

    Anyway, you’re most welcome to catch up here, and as I said in my comment on your last post, I eagerly await the dance to resume on your blog.



  2. I want my family members to see this movie! Thanks for highlighting it. My mother in law told us that one of her sons wanted to “make an arrangement” with his three brothers (one is my husband) so that he could have their mother’s condo “to keep it in the family.” The condo is in a great location and is the site of many family activities. The arrangement he wants would mean subsidizing this brother, however. The other brothers don’t plan to do that. Also, the brother doesn’t realize that it’s their mother and the memories made with her, not the condo, we will miss. I have too much stuff myself and need to organize it, so that my children won’t have to do it. It might be overwhelming to them, and they could end up just pitching even things they’d want.

    Catherine: Since this is a French film, I’m afraid it may not get to be widely screened publicly here in NA. It’s one of those which you see in Film Festivals only. But hopefully you can still catch it somewhere. I checked the imdb site and found that it would be released in the U.S. October at the NY International FF. Are you anywhere close to there? Yes, I myself is dealing with issues like this, and it’s certainly not a simple matter to handle. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment.



  3. This movie has the most lovely spellbinding ending for me.
    After my favorite actors—-Charles Berling and Dominique Reymond—in this movie—–playing spouses——have inspected the installation of their willed art treasures in the museum—–they sit in the museum cafe—-chatting at how the beauty of the objects is lost and changed in this setting; then the wild party at the already sold country house is referred to, and Berling says—s0mething like—-these children had better behave themselves, and his spouse wryly says—-Why would anybody want to behave themselves? Has to been seen to appreciate ——but, god ——do I love french films like this!


    I wrote this review after seeing the film in a theatre almost three years ago. I need to watch it again. I’m sure I’ll appreciate it more the second time around, and with life circumstances drifting a bit closer to the story of the film. Juliette Binoche is one of my all time favorite actors, and I’ve appreciated some of Assayas’ works as well. The ending indeed is thought-provoking, but I’m sure it resonates differently in different persons. Thanks for sharing your view.



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