Natural light

Pub date May 20, 2009
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW The abundant drama of natural light is reason enough to see Summer Hours, a family drama by Olivier Assayas aspiring to Proustian profundity and Chekhovian chambering. I prefer Les Destinées Sentimentales (2000) for Assayas’ novelistic mode, but the new film still has plenty to like. This will be especially true for Antiques Roadshow fans, who will have a field day with all the Musée D’Orsay-approved furnishings, even if the characters themselves don’t seem quite so sturdy. The film opens with an annual reunion at the beautiful country estate where matriarch Hélène (Edith Scob, the daughter in Georges Franju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face) has tended the reputation and archive of a long-dead artist relation. When Hélène dies, the question of the house and all those beautiful objects falls to the three adult children. Being an Oliver Assayas film, this a globalization issue. Frédéric (Charles Berling) is the only one who remains in Paris (an economist who doesn’t believe in economics, he’s more susceptible to sentimentality than the other two). Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) has gone after the art market in New York, while brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) covers the financial sector in China. A clear opposition — perhaps too clear — is erected between the memory of provincial France and the dislocated pulse of the contemporary, but to Assayas’ credit, Summer Hours doesn’t feel like it has its mind made up between the two: the darting camera courts the promise of speed and movement, while the luxurious play of light nurses what’s been lost. The characters are never more than their scenes, but there are a few breathtaking ones, including two bookending portraits of footloose youth that recoup Summer Hours‘ air of inconsequence.

SUMMER HOURS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.