Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Hours

Last night I saw Summer Hours, starring Juliette Binoche and Charles Berling.

The audience is brought into the film as if they are meeting the friends of the person they're dating for the first time. Immediately there is conversation, food and laughter in a setting that holds sentimental value for the attendees, but none of the witnesses.

Helene (Edith Scob), the family matriarch, is hosting a reunion of sorts for her three adult children: Frederic (Berling), Adrienne (Binoche) and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) at their beautiful summer house. There is an elaborate garden where they cut fresh flowers for the tables, an elegant patio for entertaining, and an interior that features pricey works of art that Helene has collected throughout the years. The house is the main character in this film--and rightfully so.

In one of the earliest scenes, Helene takes Frederic on a 'tour' of the inside, pointing out items he'll want to sell when she expires. This rattles him, but she's intent on preparing him for life as the family's default leader (and let's face it, when elderly parents pass on, there's always one sibling that does all of the work).

When the children and grandchildren depart, we're only shown a brief hint of Helene's lasting depression, which confines her to a chair by the window. A few scenes later, she's gone.

When the children reconvene to make decisions about her estate, their needs and opinions differ. The artsy daughter is content leaving her childhood in the past and making a new life for herself in America; the enterprising younger son is happy to move his family to Asia to make more money; the eldest wants to keep the house and its contents to maintain a sense of continuity, which is already rapidly deteriorating. They all go about these negotiations peacefully.

The refreshing part of this story is that none of the children need the money from the sale of the house to live a good life. With this group, it's not about the money, or even about the material possessions. It's about doing right by their mother, who was a bit like a museum piece herself--visited infrequently, more valuable the older she got and desperately lonely, save for her caretaker.

The pace is slow, but the organic feel of the life lived by the film's characters keeps the audience wanting to know how it will all turn out.

It's a slice of life with a dash of depth.

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