Summer Hours

summer-hours-poster_280x415Seems criminal somehow that, since opening in New York last May, it’s taken three and a half months for Olivier Assayas’s masterful new film Summer Hours to finally make its way to Madison’s Sundance Cinemas. Worse, the print that’s being screened is inexcusably worn and scuffed. (Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is a lesser film, but I’m planning on catching it a second time this week just to marvel at the saturated color in a pristine print.) Assayas is probably still best known for his stylish cult hit Irma Vep (1996) starring Maggie Cheung in a black latex catsuit and Jean-Pierre Léaud as a dissipated movie director. Summer Hours, while seeming more conventional on the surface than the self-consciously arty and erotic Irma Vep, is no less exhilarating. The film centers around a family-owned country estate in disrepair and the three grown siblings (Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche, and Jérémie Renier, all first-rate) who must decide what’s to be done with the property once their mother has died. The estate, which had belonged to the mother’s uncle, a well-known artist, is filled to bursting with paintings, glassware, and furniture of significant value. From this simple premise, Assayas (who also scripted) touches upon themes of loss, generational conflict, infidelity, and, surprisingly and profoundly, the manner in which art and beauty are woven into our lives and provide continuity and solace. It’s great storytelling, literary in its sensibility—think Chekhov and Henry James—but ravishingly cinematic in the telling.

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