Saturday, 18 October 2008

3 Fridays, 3 French Films Part 3: Summer Hours

Film: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
Watched: July 18th
Where: Renoir Cinema

Summer Hours makes for a great conclusion to the three films about how we have such a lack of control about how our lives and the lives of others are viewed after their time. The three films are also about family and the situation you inherit. Angel was the grocer's daughter who wanted to make her mark with words. Slimane wanted to leave something behind for his family so they could make something on their own terms. In Summer Hours we have the story of a modern upper middle class family spread apart from each other by work. More specifically we look at the power and context of things, Angel's books, celebrated and forgotten, Esme's masterpieces of suffering, Slimane's food and restaurant bringing everyone together again to give them something that is uniquely theirs in an expanding world. In Summer Hours it is art and antiques at the centre stage as objects as well as their place and our place in a global world.

It's Hélène's 75th birthday and her now grown up family complete with grandchildren jet in from near and far to come together for their annual family reunion. Hélène knows her time in the world is coming to an end and wants to make the necessary arrangements with her children for her estate and the many precious artifacts in her possession from a life spent with artists. Her children hate to discuss this with her. Most of the real action takes place after Hélène's death, as her children, not having taken their mother's advice, try and decide what to do with their inheritance. The debate is on two sides, do the siblings share the items between them or do they sell them off? Frédéric (the only one of the three to remain in France) believes they should keep the house and art to leave as a legacy for the children and for all the memories that they had there together and will have there in the future. The rest of the family are not in agreement, the youngest sibling Jérémie living and working in Asia (he wants to progress his career, that's where the action is), their sister Adrienne a designer in New York again prefers to sell as she's hardly ever in France. Much to Frédéric 's dismay they decide to sell and for tax purposes to donate much of the art to the Musée d'Orsay. There are three endings to the film, the first is Hélène's long time housekeeper taking what she thinks is an unremarkable vase (which is actually rather valuable) when offered something from the house. The second takes place at the Musée d'Orsay when we see the disinterested reception of some of the Hélène's furniture by the public and also the all the many items in the museum's archive and restoration sections (normally unseen by the public). The third and final ending is that of the soon to be sold house. Frederic's daughter throws a huge party there for her friends and the camera follows them lovingly through the house as it once more takes in some happy family memories, most probably for the last time. Frederic's daughter takes her boyfriend to a hidden spot in the grounds of the house that only someone who had spent happy times there would know. The film ends with the happy scenes of the house party.

Like the other two movies in this set of three we see how once something moves from the private space into the public the perceptions of it can be different. The desk is a functional and beautiful object in Helene's home but when it moves into the museum it becomes just another object of many with no memories for those who view it. Likewise the memories of the house and the house party are different for Frederic's daughter to that of the other party goers, she has her own private space, to everyone else it's just a big old house. In contrast when the housekeeper takes the vase when she leaves Helene's house for the last time to her it is just a beautiful vase that she always loved, for the memories it gave her as much as for the vase itself. Unbeknown to her the vase was also a valuable item which could have easily been a museum piece to be forgotten and ignored at the Orsay along with the rest of Helene's collection. Like the house and the collection the collaborators must also give up their film and move it in to the public space for it to be celebrated or forgotten. However, Summer Hours finishes on a positive note in that the personal memory and significance of something will never be lost if it truly means something to you, something that is true of Slimane's restaurant, his family and his guests who turned out, something that is up for debate in Angel's books.

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