Does anyone run more hot and cold regarding the work of French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (shown at right) than TrustMovies? I found Irma Vep a tad over-rated, though I was quite taken with Late August, Early September. Les destinées sentimentales came complete with everything I usually want in a film but proved somehow inert. I loved Demonlover and loathed Clean -- the reverse, I realize, of most critics. Assayas' segment of Paris, je t'aime worked beautifully (but then I thought every segment in that enchantment paid a nice dividend).
Boarding Gate? An unmitigated disaster that ought to have called into question the most fundamental abilities of a certain low-grade "star" apparently named for the world's largest continent. And now comes Summer Hours (L'heure d'été).
If the writer/director's latest is not a great film -- it may well be one -- it's certainly his greatest and will no doubt appear on numerous "Best" lists, come the end of the year, just as did last year's A Christmas Tale by Assayas' compatriot, Arnaud Desplechin -- a film which sprang to mind a number of times while watching Summer Hours. The two movies share a fine cinematographer, Eric Gautier, as well as the French penchant for understatement, philosophizing and making interesting connections in unusual ways.
|Though we see the grand-kids of the matriarch, it's her three children with whom we spend most of our time. Charles Berling, more interesting with each new role, plays the elder son and mommy's favorite, though the two do have a few issues. Juliette Binoche is the distant (in miles and emotions) daughter, while Jérémie Renier essays the younger son who, for reasons of career, has outsourced himself (and his family) to China. I suspect Assayas is less concerned with this fellow; certainly, the Renier character comes off as the least interesting of the three siblings, with Binoche in second place. It's Berling, whose attachment to family, as well as to the many memories connected to this house, proves the centerpiece of the movie. (Berling's son Emile, who registered so strongly in A Christmas Tale, takes the role of the character's "movie" son in the film.)|
|Also vital to the heart of Summer Hours is the matriarch's housekeeper Éloïse, played by the glowing, aging Isabelle Sadoyan (shown, right, who made her film debut nearly 40 years ago in Sautet's Les choses de la vie). Éloïse is as much as part of the family, the house and the film as anyone else, though only the viewer is likely to fully understand this. The family members are too caught up in their own immediate needs and events to appreciate her profound connection. And here is where M. Assayas' command of filmmaking becomes quietly apparent. There are moments -- a number of them throughout the movie -- at which point the ineffable is somehow expressed. Assayas manages this by linking a visual moment to something that has come before, so that we are suddenly aware of a connection, a feeling, an idea that shimmers for a moment, unstated -- and then we move on.|