Summer Hours (L'heure d'été) (Unrated) ***½


Death impending, siblings gather.

Summer Hours
The cast of Summer Hours, including Juliette Binoche, fourth from left. JEANNICK GRAVELINES

By Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours offers an intimate, achingly beautiful meditation on family, inheritance (fiscal and spiritual), and generational change. Wildly different in scope and tone from the French director's recent trilogy of internationally flavored genre pics (Demonlover, Clean and Boarding Gate), Summer Hours is a mature and ultimately moving look at a family coming to terms with the looming death of its septuagenarian matriarch (an elegant Edith Scob).

Three siblings -- a designer (Juliette Binoche), an economist (Charles Berling) and a globe-trotting businessman (Jeremie Renier) -- have gathered in the family's beautiful country house outside Paris. Surrounded by paintings, antiques and museum-quality furniture (the legacy of their late uncle, a well-known artist), the three share memories of childhood in this idyllic spot. And they share their grief and regrets, their accomplishments and increasingly different world views as an unexpected conflict develops over what to do with the property.

Quietly and keenly observed, Summer Hours nods to Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (a country estate, a family reunion, an impending sale). Assayas displays a lucid sense of how personal history and family identity are inextricably linked to a physical place -- here, to a house that is still busy accumulating its memories.

That the director ends his film with a troop of kids -- teenagers, the family offspring, and a gaggle of friends and party crashers -- trashing the house to a soundtrack of thumping hip-hop, buoyant French rock and a cover of an old Incredible String Band hippie-ditty -- well, that's not the direction in which you expect the film to go. But it goes there and makes perfect, poignant sense.

Cast: Dominique Reymond, Edith Scob, Kyle Eastwood, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Sadoyan, Valerie Bonneton, Jeremie Renier; Alice de Lencquesaing, Charles Berling, Emile Berling.

Director/screenwriter: Olivier Assayas.

Producers: Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanael Karmitz.

An IFC release. Running time: 100 minutes. In French with subtitles. Playing at: Miami-Dade only: Cosford.

Speak Up!