Summer Hours

The truth is, prominent museums do not automatically lend themselves to outstanding feature-film production. Olivier Assayas' new drama Summer Hours emerged thanks to the efforts and monies of the revered Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and not a second in the film passes when we forget this fact -- in the worst sense. The tale of an upper-crust French family contending...read more

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Reviewed by Nathan Southern
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The truth is, prominent museums do not automatically lend themselves to outstanding feature-film production. Olivier Assayas' new drama Summer Hours emerged thanks to the efforts and monies of the revered Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and not a second in the film passes when we forget this fact -- in the worst sense. The tale of an upper-crust French family contending with the sale of its deceased matriarch's estate, the film presents scene after scene of a number of pampered elitists sitting around a luxurious country home and debating what to do with the property, including various museum artifacts, which the mother suggested they bequeath to d'Orsay.

On the surface, all is perfect, as one would expect a museum piece to be: we get the creme de la creme of film actors, led by the brilliant Juliette Binoche and also including Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, Dominique Reymond, and, in an unusual but interesting casting choice, Clint Eastwood's son, Kyle (Honkytonk Man). As shot by cinematographer Eric Gautier and bathed in buttery sunlight, the picture looks gorgeous, with locations so lavishly and perfectly decorated by Sandrine Mauvezin that the sets resemble a nirvana for Architectural Digest fanatics.

But Assayas never once gives us an adequate reason to care about these characters. Their discussions seem petty, inane, and superficial, and the writer-director does a supremely poor job of sketching out their individual personalities, desires, and backgrounds. Of course, the central premise of a family selling its estate is old hat for French films, but that isn't necessarily a detriment -- one can pinpoint many instances of Gallic directors finding unique and fresh ways to tackle the subject, in efforts as different as Roger Leenhardt's Les Dernieres Vacances (1947) and Louis Malle's May Fools (1990). Suggesting the Leenhardt film stripped of its poetic lyricism, or the Malle film divested of its wit and dramatic invention, Summer Hours is not merely hollow at its center, but arch, pretentious, and excruciatingly dull.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The truth is, prominent museums do not automatically lend themselves to outstanding feature-film production. Olivier Assayas' new drama Summer Hours emerged thanks to the efforts and monies of the revered Musee d'Orsay in Paris, and not a second in the fil… (more)

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