Summer Hours (2008, Olivier Assayas)

The highlight for me here was Edith Scob. I only know her as the virgin Mary in Bunuel’s The Milky Way forty years ago, but she was totally recognizable as the deathbed matriarch here. I mean, yeah Juliette Binoche is always good, but Charles Berling (Scob’s costar in Ruiz’s Comedy of Innocence) was more the star here (and blonde L’Enfant star Jérémie Renier played their brother).

I heard this was a great movie, but right before it started I realized what I’d gotten myself into… an acclaimed family-secrets drama – surely another underwhelming handi-cam video a la A Christmas Tale or Rachel Getting Married. But no, fortunately this was the kind of filmmaking I can get behind, everything in order, with shaky cameras and close-ups only where necessary. Kind of surprising, really, that the director of hyperkinetic Irma Vep and Demonlover makes a classical-style family drama, but I’d seen Clean so I wasn’t too amazed. Another thing compared to the other recent dramas is that everything is supremely understated in this. Its themes are obvious, but they don’t come out in big emotional climaxes. The big payoff shot, Berling’s daughter framed in front of the family home, telling her boyfriend that she’s kinda sad that her grandmother is dead and the place is being sold, is tear-free and quickly interrupted and didn’t really hit me until a few minutes later in the parking lot.

Opening scene has three siblings at their mother’s house with Berling & Renier’s wives and kids (Binoche is too much the high-powered businesswoman to have time for a husband or kids), Scob talking privately about what will happen to the house and her possessions after she dies. Next scene a few months later, predictably, she is dead and the kids spend the rest of the movie deciding what to do with her house and possessions. It’s decided pretty easily that everything will be sold and the loyal servant (Isabelle Sadoyan, also a servant in Blue) will be dismissed, so there’s not much conflict, more the family members coming to terms with the property sale, the kids becoming the oldest living generation in their family.