Monday, January 18, 2010

#513: Summer Hours

(Olivier Assayas, 2008)

I had been meaning to watch this movie on Netflix because I heard it was good from a couple of critics, but it had been languishing in my queue during this project until - what do you know? - Criterion announced that they would be releasing it this April. So I no longer had any reason to put it off. Thank you, Criterion, for giving me a reason to watch this sad, beautiful movie about family and France.

The basic premise of the movie is that a woman dies and her children have to decide what to do with her summer house and all of the collectibles inside of it. See, her uncle was a moderately successful painter, so he had famous friends who had given him things and he had lots of stuff of his own as well, like notebooks and the like. The problem is that two of her three children don't even live in France any more: one son now works for a company that makes Puma sneakers in China and her daughter lives in New York where she designs dinnerware for Japan and is engaged to a man from Denver who doesn't speak French. Get the idea?

Yes, there have been movies about globalization before. And yes, there have been movies about the death of France before. But rarely have these points been so effortlessly woven into a deeply moving portrait of a family dealing with the passage of time, the interpersonal dynamics that make up close relationships, and the complex emotions that go along with generations passing their knowledge and belongings on to the next in line.

One funny thing is that Assayas has made a few other movies I've seen, and I never really liked any of them. I hated Irma Vep, for example, and his short from Paris Je T'aime is just okay. The last movie he made before this one, Boarding Gate, is a total mess of a movie, and he wrote and directed both of these movies. It really shows you how touchy that sort of thing can be.

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