Summer Hours (2008)

Long queues are a staple for any film festival. What I did not expect: hours of traffic, a persistent “low oil” light, and zero parking spots. When we finally stepped inside EDSA Shangri-La, Tim, Sarah, and I rewarded ourselves with a hearty CIBO dinner. Later, we added cookies and a bucket of popcorn. The calories were well-deserved.

Last 2011, the French Film Festival featured a Sandrine Bonnaire retrospective (À Nos Amours, Vagabond). This year, director Olivier Assayas serves as the guest of honor, dominating the line-up with titles like Irma Vep and Clean. Unfortunately, our intransigent schedules only allowed us to squeeze in Summer Hours. Its synopsis reads like the premise for an Anne Enright novel: When their mother Hélène (Edith Scob) passes away, three siblings must decide what to do with her legacy of valuable art and furniture—a collection she accumulated over the years in a house with just as much history. As Frédéric (Charles Berling), Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), and Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) confront this enormous decision, they invariably look to the past, sifting through their collected memories in a way that only death can trigger.

There is nothing exciting about Summer Hours. After Hélène’s death, everything else is a long dénouement, an unraveling. Scenes lead into the next like the rooms of a house opening to a visitor; in each one we learn a bit more about this abode, this family. The movie possesses a strong sense of verisimilitude. We see our characters eating, drinking, conversing, negotiating their stands. Brief quarrels arise, but—just as in real life—people concede. Nothing happens, yet even the smallest events leave an imprint on our characters’ internal landscapes. Their shared history has carved mutual scars, as real as the cracks in the walls of the old house, but no crumbling occurs. Nonetheless, our characters do mourn. Frédéric cries over Hélène memorably, his face half-obscured by the reflected leaves on his windshield. He has stopped the car; he cannot go on. But outside his grief, life marches on as usual. Calls have to be placed, decisions made; too soon, it’s all over.

Although I still feel squeamish about the ending (the third-generation epilogue seems too protracted), there’s no question how I feel about the film. Summer Hours is a poignant rumination on inheritance: as gift, as burden, as residue. It’s a quiet film, but it resonates with emotion.

‘A lot of things will be leaving with me. Memories, secrets, stories that interest no one anymore. But…there’s the residue. There are objects.’

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