Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Review: 'Summer Hours'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Review: 'Summer Hours'

Article excerpt

The French film "Summer Hours" was initiated under the unlikely auspices of Paris's Musee d'Orsay on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. As benefactors go, I much prefer to see a movie commissioned by a famous French museum rather than by some fat cat vulgarian.

Given the film that writer-director Olivier Assayas has made from this commission, the film-museum connection makes sense. "Summer Hours" is, among other things, about the hold that artworks have on us because of their place in our lives and our memories.

The film begins at the rural summer family retreat of Helene Berthier (Edith Scob), who is celebrating her 75th birthday with her two sons, Frederic (Charles Berling) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier), the son's wives (Dominique Reymond and Valerie Bonneton) and children, and her daughter Adrienne (a blonde Juliette Binoche). A golden-toned lushness pervades the scene, but the mood shifts when Helene, whose home is filled with valuable art, takes Frederic aside to confide in him. Because he alone among the siblings is rooted in France - Adrienne is a designer in New York, Jeremie is forever flying to China on business - she unofficially appoints him the ultimate caretaker of these treasures (including paintings by Corot). She wants the pieces left to a museum and not sold off piecemeal.

This moment between Helene and Frederic is a symbolic leave- taking, and when, soon after, she passes on, he is faced with a different reality from the one either had envisioned. Adrienne, edgy, easily distracted, cares little for preserving the art in a museum setting. Jeremie, meanwhile, announces that he is relocating to China and needs money from the sale of the art - and the home, which Frederic was hoping to keep in the family - to finance his move. A well-known economist, Frederic understands as well as anyone the vagaries of money, and he is not unsympathetic to his brother's needs. But Helene was right to entrust him with her wishes, even though, ultimately, he is voted down by Jeremie and Adrienne. …

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