From the opening series of scenes in Olivier Assayas’ film “Summer Hours,” the direction of events appears quite clear. An ailing matriarch (Edith Scob) invites her three children – COUGH, heirs to the estate – to get her affairs in order. Her eldest son (Charles Berling’s Frédéric) stayed in France, while one daughter (Juliette Binoche’s Adrienne) went west to the U.S. and her younger son (Jérémie Renier’s Jérémie) headed eastward to China.
When it comes down to the inevitable decisions about what to do with her formidable collections of art and decor, guess who pulls rank and opts to donate/sell rather than keep everything in the family heritage? If you guessed the siblings living abroad, well … slightly obvious spoiler alert, if you catch my drift. “Summer Hours” is a simple yet effective rehashing of the dialectic between continuing a legacy and punting on one’s heritage.
It may seem familiar, in part because these questions are important. Every communal unit, from the family to the nation, must continue to ask itself what debt it owes to past ancestors and what paths it must boldly blaze for itself. In films as wide-ranging as Derek Jarman’s “The Last of England” and Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” (two extremely random examples but they were the first to pop into my head), we see such issues debated.
Assayas is a worthy artist to work through these conundrums, and he sets up the tensions quite deftly in “Summer Hours.” Problem is, by about halfway through the film, he seems to run out of new things to say. None of this discredits the fine work to begin with; it just softens the impact by the close. B /