The sermon of the inanimate is such that objects of art speak through the memories emotionally invested in them. And yet the shift of objects from daily usage to museum display via estate bequest is a transition rarely recorded in film. In their museum settings, empty vases thirst for water and flowers; paintings recall affectionate placement on the walls of homes and their daily dalliance with shifting angles of window light; artist notebooks plead not to be torn apart and auctioned off a page at a time. The circle that is the art of collecting holds its breath at being broken and then resigns itself to the cursory glances of strangers. In a surprising turnabout from the Hollywood B-movie homage of Boarding Gate, Olivier Assayas offers up in L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours) a film that feels distinctly European, unquestionably French, imbued with refined, cultured nuance. As Michael Hawley mentioned in his recent "tabulation of deprivation", along with Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, L'Heure d'été was commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Musée d'Orsay, where transitional scenes in the lives of these objects are administratively staged.
After siblings Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frédéric (Charles Berling) and Jérémie (Jérémie Rénier) return home to the countryside for their mother's (Edith Scob) 75th birthday, an unexpected event threatens family unity and forces them to face up to their past. Her passions well spent, Edith Scob—in a performance that glows with the beauty of diminishing embers—anticipates death, sadly aware that she will take with her memories, secrets and stories that no one cares to listen to anymore. She knows that her children’s lives will lead them far away from their childhood home where she has raised them; a home decorated with accumulated treasures of art: the “detritus” of a life well-lived. She has no illusions that her home will need to be sold and has prepared for this likely event by making an inventory of what is valuable and museum-worthy. More than anyone, having lived her life fully, she is aware that nothing can remain the same in order for the new to thrive. Her house of breath is dismantled—not board by board—but by one meaningful memory at a time.
Her eldest son Frédéric deems her morbid; but, she is lucid and sensible. Her daughter Adrienne (Juliette Binoche sporting a blonde wig) and youngest son Jérémie (Jérémie Rénier, looking one hundred times foxier than the addict in Le Silence de Lorna) have chosen lives that have no need for their childhood home. It is only the eldest son Frédéric who had hoped to hold onto the estate to share with his children and the film registers his initial disappointment and eventual resignation to the wishes of his siblings.
In one of the film’s final sequences, Frédéric’s daughter throws a party for her friends in the empty house, filling it with blasts of rock music, dope smoking, and drinking. Youth cannot bemoan the past; it must celebrate its passing in order to come into its own. Assayas has rendered an evocative portrait of the turning of generations and the manner in which beautiful belongings return to the world.
Cross-published on Twitch.