Sunday, July 27, 2008

SUMMER HOURS / L'HEURE D'ETE - dry philosophical drama

SUMMER HOURS is a hopelessly dry philosophical drama in which narrative drive and emotional veracity are sacrificed for a rather hackneyed discussion of the nature of memory, artistic value and heritage.

The movie opens with a scene of a family celebrating their grandmother's birthday in a French country house. The wonderfully well-preserved Anna Scob plays the matriarch as a refreshingly realistic woman: she has sacrificed her life to preserving the memory of her beloved uncle, a famous artist, but she will not impose the same burden on her own children. They come, enjoy the house, leave her exhausted and abandoned. She knows that there is no room for her in their full lives, and that, with the exception of her eldest son, they have no appreciation of the wonderful works of art nouveau scattered throughout the property.

The film then moves into its second segment. Some time has passed and the matriarch has died. The three children meet at the funeral and decide what to do with the house. The younger son is an ambitious businessman moving to China, with no need of a third-share in a living museum. The daughter is a successful New York-based designer, similarly keen to sell out of the house and, indeed, of France. The elder son is forced to comply as he doesn't have the money to buy them out.

It is at this point that I thought the family drama would break into a fever pitch. But no, everyone is incredibly civilised. Yes, the elder brother, played ably by Charles Berling (RIDICULE), is heart-broken, but he can empathise with his siblings. Indeed the sister (Juliette Binoche) and the younger brother (Jérémie Renier (IN BRUGES)) are also keen not to impose on their brother, and are sorry that the necessary actions must be taken. In addition, there is a sniff of passed scandal, but nothing that is developed or played out.

So, the movie grinds on through the disposals, in an ever more dessicated, academic discussion. Do the objects, removed from the house into the Musee d'Orsay, caged and sterile, lose their real beauty? Or is it better that they should be properly restored and displayed for the nation? Should we sanctify our heritage or play basketball in the artists studios of yesterday? And what constitutes art? The honest appreciation of a cleaner, or the appraisal of a critic?

SUMMER HOURS is a movie, then, that sacrifices emotion to academic discussion. Such a shame, that's it's intellectual debates are so trite and unoriginal.

SUMMER HOURS was released in France and the Netherlands earlier this year. It is currently on release in Taiwan and the UK. It goes on release in Greece on August 14th.

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