REVIEW: Summer Hours

15 05 2016

Summer HoursFrom 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. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Holy Motors

17 10 2012

When I saw Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” in Cannes, I presume that I walked into the thousand-seat DeBussy Theater with significantly less knowledge of film, particularly French film, than most of that audience.  (Heck, Benh Zeitlin, the director of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was casually sitting a row behind me!  A few hours later, he accepted the prize for the Camera d’Or.)

But for whatever disparities in the experiences we brought in, that audience came out the same way: a little confused, but very entertained and extremely invigorated by the power that cinema still continues to wield.  Carax’s film is one that defies logic as its episodic plot cruises along the streets of Paris, getting stranger and stranger with each passing scene.  And don’t worry, Eva Mendes’ armpits get licked in the first 30 minutes … and it gets wierder than that!

Carax gives us all we could ever want from a movie: motion-capture sex, murder, an accordion parade through a cathedral, biting off people’s fingers, a Kylie Minogue musical number on a rooftop, talking vehicles, intrigue, actors, silent film allusions, and monkeys.  How could someone possibly put that all into a single movie?  You have to see it for yourself.  You just have to.

All I’ll give you is that a mysterious man, Monsieur Oscar, rides around Paris in a limousine; he gets in as one person and leaves as another.  The role requires a dynamic performer, and Denis Lavant might be the best shape-shifter on screen I’ve ever seen.  The man went all-in for the role, and he is wickedly brilliant.

I can’t say I understand “Holy Motors.”  It’s an enigma.  But if you have the chance to see it now, do yourself a favor and give it a chance because it’s rare you find a movie so cryptic and well-made that actually manages to entertain you in the process.  While most films this oblique manage to piss you off so much that you don’t even want to riddle out the meaning (“The Tree of Life” comes to mind for many), Carax makes you desperately crave getting to the bottom of the film.

His “Holy Motors” is a cult classic in the making, one that will be shown as a midnight movie for decades.  Experience it for yourself – prepare yourself for a ride like no other.  B+