Summer Hours: Criterion Collection
April 16, 2010
French filmmaker Olivier Assayas has created a fascinating body of work that finds him alternating between character-driven films like Late August, Early September (1998) and Clean (2004), and stylish action thrillers like demonlover (2002) and Boarding Gate (2007). Summer Hours (2008) is a film that certainly belongs to the former as opposed to the latter. Set in Paris and the French countryside, it focuses on three adult siblings from a family steeped in a rich, artistic heritage. Frederic (Berling) is a university professor and the only one who still lives in France while Adrienne (Binoche) lives in Manhattan designing for a Japanese department store, and Jeremie (Renier) lives in Beijing with his family, supervising several shoe manufacturing factories.
As the film begins, we see children of various ages playing together in the countryside. They’re soon called in for a meal and we meet their parents: Frederic, Adrienne and Jeremie have all returned home for their mother’s (Scob) 75th birthday. Their mother is a famous painter with an upcoming show in San Francisco. She’s getting old and laments that Adrienne doesn’t visit often enough, unlike Jeremie and his family who visit every summer. Frederic is the responsible one and so his mother talks to him about what to do with her estate when she’s gone. Like any child, he finds all this talk of what to do with her possessions after she’s dead very troubling. The biggest issue is the summer house. When their mother dies will Adrienne and Jeremie, who live so far away, want to keep it? Frederic has nostalgic feelings for it and likes to keep up the family tradition of using it during the summer.
It goes without saying that the cast is uniformly excellent, from Charles Berling as the dutiful son to Juliette Binoche as the slightly distant daughter, but it is Edith Scob as the melancholic patriarch who steals the show. There is a poignant scene where we see her after all her children and grandchildren have left where she seems truly alone. The sense of isolation is tangible. Scob’s absence once her character is gone dominates the film.
Assayas does an excellent job creating the relaxed vibe of a family reunion with kids playing boisterously in the background with authentic-sounding conversations, like the playful way Adrienne insults Jeremie but with a spiteful subtext familiar to anyone who has a sibling. Summer Hours also addresses the inevitable mortality of one’s parents – something most of us will have to face at one point in our lives. Assayas’ film is about many things, most notably the importance of family and the loss of a loved one. When a parent dies you start to take stock of your own life as you become aware of your own mortality.
There is an interview with Olivier Assayas that was conducted in January 2010 especially for this DVD. He talks about Summer Hours in relation to some of his other films. With this film he wanted to make a simple story set in France and explore subject matter familiar to him. Assayas talks about the influence of Jean Renoir’s films on his own work. He speaks quite eloquently about the themes his film explores.
“Making-of” is a 26-minute documentary featuring interviews with Assays and actors Charles Berling and Juliette Binoche. There’s plenty of footage of Assayas working with his cast and crew on the set of the film. The director talks about his working methods and what he expects from his actors.
“Inventory” is a 50-minute documentary that examines the film’s approach to the art on display in Paris’ Musee d’Orsay. Originally, the museum wanted to celebrate its 20th anniversary by having several filmmakers shoot a small film with the museum featured in it. Assayas was approached and ended up turning his into a feature-length film which became Summer Hours.