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Peter T Chattaway

Summer Hours

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I saw this film at the local film festival almost eight months ago, and fell in love with it right away; I wrote a few paragraphs about it here. The film is finally getting some North American distribution, and reviews are popping up here and there. Today, Rod Dreher called this film a "must-see". I agree. If this film comes back to Vancouver before the year is out, it could very easily top my end-of-the-year top-ten list, I think. It's got a guaranteed spot on that list, at any rate. (FWIW, J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader called it "the year's best movie (so far)" two months ago, when it played at a festival dedicated to European films.)

It's strange to think that my own grandmother was still alive when I saw this movie last year, and that members of my extended family have been dealing with her property (where she had been living since a decade or so before I was born; many, many family gatherings took place there) and what to do with it ever since she was first moved to an assisted-living place three years ago. I won't deny that my personal situation is a major influence in how I have responded to this film -- but it's good, it's really good, and I'm glad other people are corroborating that opinion now.

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I saw it over the weekend, and it lived up to every rave I've read. Great ensemble cast, thought-provoking and richly layered storytelling. In the last five minutes, it goes from very very good to great, IMHO.

What a great cast. Charles Berling is so tenderly convincing as Frederic, the eldest son bearing the burden of responsibility while he watches his own idealistic portrait of his mother slowly dissolve before his eyes. Juliette Binoche creates yet another character that's unlike any of her others, even finding a voice I've never heard from her before. Jeremie Renier (of L'Enfant and La Promesse) shows remarkable restraint in what could have been a very showy turn. Emile Berling (A Christmas Tale) isn't in it much, but he makes an impression playing Frederic's son (and he is, of course, Charles Berling's son, so perhaps not much of a stretch for him). Alice de Lencquesaing, who represents - to some extent - the next generation of arts patrons is herself a work of art.

Even though I think I admire the film more than Michael Sicinski does, I was delighted by his observation of the correlation between this film's theme and the theme of Toy Story 2.

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I've seen this, and I liked it a lot. I agree that this film is very thought-provoking about the ways that memories and artifacts are passed down from one generation to another, and in exploring the importance of place in the lives of transient modern career people. Each of the family members must make decisions as far as their careers and families go, and their paths contrast with the permanence of the country house and the histories that are contained there.

And the film is beautiful: the house and the grounds are stately, and the works of art each have their own unique beauty. The filmgoer is left to ponder the place of such heritage in the modern world, and how the journeys of the human characters parallel the journey taken by the objects. At the end, do these journeys end up in a positive direction?

Edited by Crow

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FWIW, what I ended up turning in felt to me like "excerpts from a review." I got carried away and wrote something three times too long, with a lot of commentary on the performances and other scenes. That became part of a larger piece on nostalgia and art, and it even involved the Jim Henson exhibit in downtown Seattle. Then I ran out of time to distill it neatly into the word-count-limit of the Image blog. So I carved out more than half of it in a hurry, turned it in, and my editors stripped it down farther. Which was the right thing to do.

So, my review is not the piece I wanted to write. But it'll have to do for now.

Peter, I don't see any problem with your interpretation. I touched on similar things myself in my earlier drafts. It's a very enigmatic conclusion, and so I'm not surprised we had different experiences of it.

Sure, the film's family relationships are rich with material to discuss. No argument there.

But it did seem to me that the young woman's experience of the place was different for having seen it in a work of art. She had to some extent *noticed*... or at least noticed somebody else noticing. And so she doesn't just go plunging pell-mell into carnal bliss, but pauses, affected by what she sees. She stops to remember and figure out exactly where the artist had been standing, what they saw, and how that scene had changed over the years. No, she didn't seem interested in the painting earlier, but now it comes to her mind. (And that's the point - she suddenly values it.) She seems almost surprised, perhaps even a little regretful.

I hate having to send back screener copies. I really need to see this again. Maybe I'll read it differently on a second viewing. But that was the strong impression I had while watching the conclusion.

My sense of "progress" came from how the last few minutes feel like an entirely different movie. I didn't feel confined by the earlier 95% of the movie, and yet I suddenly felt "liberated" by the conclusion, as the camera suddenly shifted into long-take, fluid motion that left me giddy and dizzy for the dance. It seemed incredibly significant to me when the two young people stop and climb over the wall, seeing boundaries as something to climb over rather than as limits.

Since I took my initial notes, I've found all kinds of reviews discussing this film as a film as much about art and globalization as it is about the loss of the matriarch. And that's certainly what I find most interesting. Otherwise, I found the family's story rather mundane. Not meaningless, but not particularly compelling.

FWIW, I'm planning to post the full review eventually at Looking Closer. I just need to let this version stand at Image for a while first. And I need to see the movie again.

Edited by Overstreet

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Oh, the movie as a whole is definitely about art and globalization, no question about that. Or it touches on those themes, at least.

But I don't remember ANYthing which suggested that the young woman's thoughts in the film's final moments were influenced by the painting that she had seen (and shrugged off) in the earlier scene. Maybe I'd respond differently if I saw the film again -- it's been eight months, after all -- but it always seemed to me that it was the young woman's personal memories of her own grandmother, and not some two-steps-removed memory of a painting made by her long-dead great-great-uncle, that were giving her pause, there.

We as viewers are certainly supposed to connect that scene to the earlier scene with the painting, and wonder about the differences between reality, artistic representation of reality, and memory (which is itself a representation of reality without necessarily being real itself). That would be consistent with the film's constant probing of the difference between objective and intersubjective realities. (What is a painting, or a vase, or a piece of furniture "worth"? And to whom is it worth that?) But I don't recall seeing anything within the scene itself that indicated the character herself was making that connection.

(Side note: People link to my stuff here all the time when I haven't linked to it myself. But that's okay, it's part of the game. Once it's published, it's part of the public discourse. And that's doubly true for one of Image's sister websites!)

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I wasn't reprimanding you for linking to it. I only meant that I hadn't linked to it this time because I have problems with the review myself. (I'll unbold it to avoid misunderstanding.)

Do you remember the girl stopping and talking about the painting at all, referring to the fact that the scene had changed and that you used to be able to see the house, but now the trees have grown up to obstruct the view?

Edited by Overstreet

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Is the right translation really "Summer Hours"? Or should it be a more literal "The Hours of Summer" (L'heure d'

Edited by SDG

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I might get to this Saturday night, but if so, it'll have to be the 9:30 show. I learned years ago to do 7:30 shows; 9:30 is too late for me to start into a movie. But it might be my only option, and I really want to see this film before it leaves town.

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*** SPOILERS ***

For what it's worth, I didn't have ANY of these reactions. ... For one thing, youth is youth, whereas age is age, so when I saw all the energy on display there (energy that is nicely enhanced by the roving camera work, which is quite different from the more stately cinematography of the earlier scenes),

Interesting because I didn't see any big distinction in the "roving camera work" of the final scene as compared with "more stately cinematography" earlier in the film. What I loved most about this film -- and there's a lot to love -- is the camera movement throughout the entire movie. It's subtle in a way that you don't have to notice but you pick up on it if you're looking for that sort of thing -- without such insight being detrimenal to the viewing experience. Sure, that final scene is a bit more expansive in terms of the amount of territory it covers than some of the earlier scenes set in one room, etc., but even in those scenes, the camera is almost always on the move, and the effect is superbly cinematic. This is far and away the best film I've seen so far this year. (Time, or almost time, for our midway-point best-of-year thread, although I won't ponder that until at least next weekend. I'm seeing three theatrical releases in the next five days!)

I've found all kinds of reviews discussing this film as a film as much about art and globalization as it is about the loss of the matriarch. And that's certainly what I find most interesting. Otherwise, I found the family's story rather mundane.

Peter affirmed the idea that the film is about art and globalization. I haven't read all the reviews Jeffrey has, but I'd like to offer a strong dissent to the idea that "the family's story" is "rather mundane." Whatever the film says about art and globalization is secondary, IMO, to the core family drama in which these issues play out. In other words, I didn't find myself thinking about globalization while watching the film; I found myself thinking about me and my family, and about how when my grandmother died and my mom asked if there was anything I wanted from my grandmother's home, I said, "I want the M&M dish" -- a porcelain container with a lid that makes a certain sound when you open and close it, and which was a sign that my brothers and I were dipping into the peanut M&Ms at my grandparents' place.

That dish is now at my parents' home, and my own daughters know that the M&Ms are there (my third child, who's two years old, was diagnosed with a peanut allergy about a year ago, and now that I think about it, the jar hasn't been in its usual spot this past year). Maybe one day, when I ask them if there's anything they want from Mimi and Papa's place, one of them will ask for the M&M dish.

It's a silly story, I guess, but for me, it's what the film is about. I don't know that the dish is worth anything monetarily and don't really care. But it holds meaning -- it holds memories. Did I mention that my parents live in the house my grandparents occupied (and which my grandfather designed, as an architect) until they moved out? And that my parents wanted to sell the place a decade ago and have it divided into three lots for new homes, and use the cash for their retirement, but that they ran into environmental regulations from the county that prevented them from selling and, after their initial frustration had passed, ended up updating the home with a lovely addition? They continue to host parties and events there; I was just there today to celebrate the graduation of my step-niece.

So, like Peter, the movie had a strong personal effect on me (although he agrees that the film is definitely about art and globalization, without saying whether he finds the family element as "mundane" as Jeffrey does).

A note about French films. I've struggled with the legacy of French cinema from the New Wave to the present. So many French films are renowned, and yet I feel distant from them, admiring certain innovations and performances without really loving the works of major French filmmakers. Every year or two I'll attend another French film that's drawing rave reviews, and will feel much cooler toward the film than many critics. But late last year I saw A Christmas Tale, which is a knockout, and now this, which is equally a knockout.

Three cheers for the French!

EDIT: I'd also be curious to know what folks thought of one character's casual mention that she's part of the "Christian community" in China. I thought this might be developed among the film's other themes, but I didn't detect any further elaboration of this religious reference. Her husband speaks about material needs without, IIRC, tying them to his wife's work or to anything beyond his own aspirations involving his professional relocation. Was there more to this?

Edited by Christian

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Christian wrote:

: So, like Peter, the movie had a strong personal effect on me (although he agrees that the film is definitely about art and globalization, without saying whether he finds the family element as "mundane" as Jeffrey does).

No, I don't find the family element "mundane" at all. I found it very real, and very relatable.

I don't think the art element can be ignored, really; several of the characters are involved in art to one degree or another, and of course the museum also plays a big part in the film as the place that preserves artifacts yet also separates them from the lives of the people who made and used those artifacts.

As for the globalization, it's certainly at least implicit in the film, to the extent that two of the woman's three children have left France -- one for the United States, the other for China -- and to the extent that these two children don't feel any particularly strong connection to their "home" in France any more. The firstborn son (the one who still lives in France) wants to keep their mother's property, but the other two children (the ones who have left France behind) want to sell the property and take the cash. There's definitely a theme to explore there, even if it is somewhat subtle and organic to the story.

On a side note, when my own grandmother died a few months ago, pretty much all my cousins came back to Vancouver for the funeral (and the get-together afterwards), and it dawned on me that I would probably never see them all in the same place at the same time ever again. I gather we grew up considerably closer than a lot of cousins do, and a lot of that closeness was due to our frequent family gatherings at my Oma's little two-acre plot of land. But when she moved into the assisted-living home three years ago, her land was sold. And by the time she died this year, a number of her grandchildren had moved to other cities, other provinces, other countries... One of my cousins got married several months ago, and I was struck by the fact that the only cousins who showed up for the wedding (apart from his siblings) were the ones who happened to live in the area. Fortunately, those who DON'T live in the area were still able to come to my Oma's funeral (even if a few of them left their spouses and/or children behind). But if they can't be bothered to come back to Vancouver for a wedding, then what other event is there on the horizon that could possibly bring them all back here at the same time? Probably nothing. And so, an era has passed.

That may or may not tie into how I respond to this film the NEXT time I see it, too.

: I'd also be curious to know what folks thought of one character's casual mention that she's part of the "Christian community" in China.

Y'know, I don't even remember that line. That's something else to look for, the next time I see this film.

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Do you remember the girl stopping and talking about the painting at all, referring to the fact that the scene had changed and that you used to be able to see the house, but now the trees have grown up to obstruct the view?

Oh, right, I remember that, at least the bit about how you used to be able to see the house, but now the trees have grown up. Good point.

As for the globalization, it's certainly at least implicit in the film, to the extent that two of the woman's three children have left France -- one for the United States, the other for China -- and to the extent that these two children don't feel any particularly strong connection to their "home" in France any more. The firstborn son (the one who still lives in France) wants to keep their mother's property, but the other two children (the ones who have left France behind) want to sell the property and take the cash. There's definitely a theme to explore there, even if it is somewhat subtle and organic to the story.

That's exactly it, and what makes it so effective. The film isn't "about" "globalization" in some self-conscious or didactic way, but in an utterly persuasive way follows a family living through particular changes and circumstances in an increasingly globalized world.

EDIT: I'd also be curious to know what folks thought of one character's casual mention that she's part of the "Christian community" in China. I thought this might be developed among the film's other themes, but I didn't detect any further elaboration of this religious reference. Her husband speaks about material needs without, IIRC, tying them to his wife's work or to anything beyond his own aspirations involving his professional relocation. Was there more to this?

I looked for more on this point too, and I think you about covered it -- although it now occurs to me that J

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vjmorton says Summer Hours is kind of a right-wing critique of capitalism, as opposed to a left-wing critique of same.

Mike D'Angelo spends the majority of his blurb talking about his own recent family experiences rather than the film, then notes: "But just the degree to which I'm digressing into autobiography . . . gives you an idea of how potent Assayas' musings on history and utility prove to be. A very small film, but lovely." Seems to me like a lot of us have been reacting that way to this film.

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vjmorton says Summer Hours is kind of a right-wing critique of capitalism, as opposed to a left-wing critique of same.

? Didn't see anything about the film at this link.

Mike D'Angelo spends the majority of his blurb talking about his own recent family experiences rather than the film, then notes: "But just the degree to which I'm digressing into autobiography . . . gives you an idea of how potent Assayas' musings on history and utility prove to be. A very small film, but lovely." Seems to me like a lot of us have been reacting that way to this film.

Oh yeah. I contemplated opening my own review in just that way -- and I have at least three family stories I could have used to do it.

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SDG wrote:

: Didn't see anything about the film at this link.

It comes up in the podcast discussion. (BTW, I've never heard vjmorton's voice before. I kept thinking of Tarantino. Hope he doesn't mind. vjmorton, that is. Don't care what Tarantino thinks. Though I do like a few of his movies. Um, what were we talking about, again?)

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It comes up in the podcast discussion. (BTW, I've never heard vjmorton's voice before. I kept thinking of Tarantino. Hope he doesn't mind. vjmorton, that is. Don't care what Tarantino thinks. Though I do like a few of his movies. Um, what were we talking about, again?)

Ah. Hm. Well, having caught a movie with vjmorton once and had him to the house for dinner, I'll have to see, if I ever run across Tarantino's voice, if he reminds me of vjmorton.

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I've posted some more thoughts on Summer Hours at Filmwell. Found Rivers and Tides to be a helpful connection.

That was great, Jeffrey. How many times have you seen the movie? I've been marveling recently at the ability of certain critics to remember every detail about a movie, while I struggle to recall the most basic elements of the story, etc.

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I've seen it three times -- twice on a screener DVD, and then once in the theater. I take a *lot* of notes.

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Just caught this again, and struck anew with how well it almost unintenionally covers territory that Barbarian Invasions does with less grace and precision (and I say that even as a fan of that film). Looking forward to interacting with some of the above comments, as I wager this will be on most A&Fer lists this year.

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Just caught this again, and struck anew with how well it almost unintenionally covers territory that Barbarian Invasions does with less grace and precision (and I say that even as a fan of that film). Looking forward to interacting with some of the above comments, as I wager this will be on most A&Fer lists this year.

It's still right at the top of mine, with some distance between it and number 2 on the list. I suppose something might come along in the next couple of months to dislodge it, but I doubt it.

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