Summer Hours (IFC Films, NR)

film_summer-hours_sm.jpgSummer Hours is a sumptuous film, even in its realistic depiction of a well-lived, bohemian life.








Summer films are famously filled with images of death and the dying. It’s the rare movie, regardless of season, that deals with the minutiae of death the way French film Summer Hours does. And that’s a good thing.

Siblings Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frédéric (Charles Berling) and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) don’t have much time to grieve after their mother, Hélène (Edith Scob) dies. Her home, where they all gathered with their families for summer vacations, is filled with priceless paintings and antiques from some of the 18th and 19th centuries’ great artisans. They now have decisions to make about their mother’s legacy that none of them thought would have to be made so soon.

There is no emotional, Oscar-baiting death scene in Summer Hours; the film is only concerned with showing death’s aftermath in a very matter-of-fact way. Eldest brother Frédéric dealing with the details of his mother’s estate while trying to rein in his unruly teenage daughter. Adrienne’s displeasure over the wording of Hélène’s obituary in the paper. Jérémie’s belief that their mother played an even more interesting part in the family’s history than any of them would like to admit.

These moments, and more, go a long way toward showing how differently people deal with the death of a family member, especially when faced with the duty of clearing away their belongings. For Frédéric, the only sibling still living in France, Hélène’s house and everything that fills it are bastions of her life and their lives as children. How do you part with those things without ridding yourself of some of your memories? Possessions are supposed to be meaningless, but are they worth holding on to if it means you can feel like your loved ones are still with you a bit?

Summer Hours is a sumptuous film, even in its realistic depiction of a well-lived, bohemian life. Hélène’s home is a ramshackle, maze-like wonder filled with knickknacks and surrounded by lush wildflowers and lakes. Scenes as simple as the family enjoying a birthday celebration together or a couple cutting flowers from the property make the world of the movie seem marvelously real and accessible, like these people could easily be your neighbors.

All of the performances here are good, but Berling and Scob are standouts. Berling makes Frédéric a man conflicted by the tasks with which he’s been charged, wanting to fulfill his mother’s wishes but not completely sure if it’s the right thing to do, while Scob is perfect as a woman with a totally lived life who’s prepared to deal with her eventual demise while still reveling in her past. | Adrienne Jones

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