Summers are for families, or at least that’s how it seems in the countless communities where people gather to celebrate the longest and warmest days of the year. On Wednesday, August 26, at 7:30 p.m. in UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Arts & Lectures will screen a new film by Olivier Assayas called Summer Hours, which renders the summertime family reunion experience as a bittersweet reality and a symbol of what contemporary French culture has become. Hours is an unusually strong film for a number of reasons, and it deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Every aspect, from the cinematography to the acting, the direction to the screenplay, works to form a harmonious whole that is, like the annual return to a favorite summer house, more than the sum of its parts.
Here, three siblings, all in their forties, are faced with a difficult decision when their mother Helne dies, leaving them a gorgeous, if somewhat dilapidated, country house, complete with a valuable collection of furniture and paintings. You see, Helne has become the world’s foremost scholar on the art of her uncle, the famous (and fictional) French painter Paul Berthier. Her children spend the rest of the film handling the estate-much of which goes to the Musee d’Orsay-as well as their feelings about the house, their mother, France, and the people they have become. For more on Summer Hours, read on below. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.
1) It’s Genuine: From the dynamic handheld camera work to the subtle, relaxed performances, everything about Summer Hours feels true to life. The highly mobile steadicam at first seems restless, but in the end demonstrates just as much intelligence as an actual character.
2) The Real Deal: Filmmaker Assayas had the cooperation of the Musee d’Orsay in making Summer Hours, which means that when you see a Majorelle desk, or a Hoffmann armoire, you are looking at the real thing. The most exciting set pieces of the film are found in the sequence during which appraisers enter the house and go through its contents in the presence of the children. Each item has a story, as well as a history, and the objects, like the people who own them, are not always what they seem.
3) The Corot Connection: If you have seen the outstanding Corot in California exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, you will have some feeling for the importance of the two Corot paintings at the center of this film. The older brother, Frederic, wants to keep them, and the house, while the two younger siblings, Adrienne and Jeremie, need the money and feel it is time to move on. Where do these pictures go when the old house is no more? Could it be California?