Three adult siblings reunite for a final visit with their mother, and then to manage her estate once she’s passed away, in Summer Hours, a superior family drama that, despite its apparent dissimilarities from his recent work, finds French director Olivier Assayas once again charting the effects of globalization on human consciousness and relationships. Frédéric (Charles Berling) is an economist who thinks lowly of the global economy (dubbing it a “religion”), and that conviction, coupled with his desire to continue residing in France with his wife and children, puts him at odds with sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), an individualistic art dealer in NYC, and younger brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), a businessman stationed in Asia for work. International finance is the force that separates them, both from each other and – once their mother (Edith Scob) dies, and Adrienne and Jérémie vote (against Frédéric’s wishes) to sell her beloved summer house and donate their great-uncle’s art collection to the Museum d’Orsay – from their memories. Assayas’ story grapples with the way places and spaces function as vessels for personal pasts, and how those locations also hold within them dreams of the future. With a sly, deft touch marked by elegant fade-outs between his vignettes, as well as sustained takes that give conversations room to naturally stretch, mature and evolve, Assayas expresses the melancholy of childhood’s ultimate end as well as globalization’s reconfiguration of traditional notions of self, family and history through the creation of a mobile, geographically and culturally untethered citizenry. Nonetheless, Summer Hours is first and foremost enlivened by its cast’s superbly artless performances, with Binoche in particular expressing, with amazingly versatile, engaging naturalism, a complexity of emotions and motivations blessedly free of actorly personality-trait underlining or character-summarizing statements and gestures.
(2008 New York Film Festival)