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  Summer Hours

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier, Edith Scob

Directed by: Olivier Assayas

Produced by: Marin Karmitz

Written by: Olivier Assayas

Distributor: IFC Films; also available on IFC's cable Video On Demand.

As seen at AFI Fest 2008:

    As Terminator Salvation assaults the senses of the multiplex crowd, viewers seeking a more substantive time at the movies should look no further Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours, an engrossing French drama about grown siblings (Juliette Binoche, Jérémie Renier, and Charles Berling) coping with the loss of their mother by considering their future ownership of her home.

     While the film comes with my wholehearted recommendation, note that I wrote "engrossing" and not "emotional." Summer Hours lacks poignancy because the characters are not relatable, everyday people; they make up a typical elitist, artsy-fartsy French crowd. In one scene, a character heart-wrenchingly resents the siblings’ decision to give away certain famous art-pieces in the home, a feeling that currently strapped-for-cash moviegoers (at least in the U.S.) will find to be a bit distant from their sympathies. Nonetheless, Summer Hours finds exceptional authenticity in the way the siblings interact regarding the home, which they grew up in and spent countless hours enjoying over summers with their children. Two of them could care less about the place—it holds sentimental value, but this is worth less to them than the money they'll bank from selling it—and one sees the need to keep it to stay true to his mother. In this very conflict, Assayas engages in natural, nuanced character development, showing how these people have grown over the years to become who they are today. There isn't a whiff of sentimentality or manipulation to be found in the exercise.

     While I may not have left Summer Hours touched, there's no reason I should have. Only in Hollywood is there the expectation that good-hearted real people always be sympathetic. This is a movie about family that strives for so much more than the typical teary-eyed American melodrama. Assayas didn’t need to explore clichés because they wouldn't have added anything to the story, and that he realized this is a testament to his measured judgment as a filmmaker. Coupled with great performances, the writer/director has provided this summer’s first piece of terrific counterprogramming. If you can’t find it at your local art-house, note that it’s also available via cable Video OnDemand, thanks to cutting-edge distributor IFC.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.5.2008 (edited for theatrical release re-run on 5.25.2009)

Screened on: 11.1.2008 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


Summer Hours is Not Rated and runs 103 minutes.

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