Summer Hours (Blu-ray)
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 103 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: April 20, 2010
Review Date: April 12, 2010
A somber meditation on generational memory both personal and tangible, Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours is a surprisingly gentle punch in the stomach. Like Teddy Roosevelt, it walks softly and carries a big stick, and it will leave a reflective viewer with much to ponder with great emotional residue after it concludes. This is one sneaky emotional wallop masquerading as a quiet domestic drama.
After the death of their mother (Edith Scob), three siblings Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frédéric (Charles Berling), and Jérémie (Jérémie Rénier) must decide what to do with her home (once the domicile of revered painter Paul Berthier) and many of the valuable artifacts contained within. Though all of them have fond memories of their lives there, their adult careers have taken Adrienne and Jérémie far, far away from Paris, far enough and busy enough that they can’t see holding on to a property they’d never be around to enjoy. Frédéric alone wants to retain the house and grounds and its possessions but can’t afford to buy out his brother and sister’s interest in their share of the estate, so decisions have to be made that run counter to what the mother had wanted for the legacy of her family.
Director Olivier Assayas’ script works on two levels: we have the domestic drama of the older brother trying to retain the family estate for the use of the family’s future generations, but more importantly, the screenplay offers quiet reflection on the loss of any personal connection to mementos and artifacts through each successive generation, a loss that becomes more genuinely emotional and personal as the family treasures go one by one to individuals or museums where the emotional connections are totally lost: existing only as sterile artworks to be viewed and enjoyed from a distance and then quickly forgotten. It’s a sobering, gut-churning realization that one’s prized legacy is being reduced over time to respectful insignificance, and Assayas makes this point repeatedly with clear, pensive, but deadly accuracy. Through much of the film, the camera is still or makes slow, careful movements around its protagonists, but when the third and last generation to enjoy the grounds takes over in the film’s final sequence, the camera is all over the place, jumping and slipping with the restless vivacity of youth, a last hurrah for the property to cast its spell over its legatees.
Charles Berling as the brother with the strongest attachment to the property registers beautifully the conflicting emotions when the loss of the estate is evident. It’s a striking performance filled with pride, disappointment, joy, and anger as the moods evolve during the film. Juliette Binoche has less to do as the sister whose life has taken her to America while Jérémie Rénier shines in a couple of intense scenes with his brother. Edith Scob is only in the film’s opening half hour as the mother whose life is slowly winding down, still reflecting on her past loves and joys and resistant to change but she makes a vivid impression, and equally good is housekeeper Eloise played by Isabelle Sadoyan, a quiet but stubborn supporter of things past.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Its colors are never garish but instead are clear and precise, and sharpness, while occasionally just a speck shy of optimum in a couple of very noteworthy shots, is nicely delivered on the whole. Flesh tones are accurately and appealingly represented. There are no problematic digital artifacts to mar the presentation. The pale white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is, like the video encode, relatively quiet and unassuming while maintaining a presence that’s unmistakably there even in its subtlety. There is occasional but gentle surround activity with street sounds (which at one point make Binoche’s English speaking scene a bit hard to hear) and country noises, but the rear channels go mostly silent for relatively long stretches of the film. Music is also occasionally filtered through the soundfield but again, this is sporadic as it seems to stay mostly in the front soundstage.
Director Olivier Assayas is interviewed in a 2010 video feature which runs for 28 ¾ minutes. In it, he stresses his theme of the globalization of the family leading to their lack of interest in the past, the influences on his career, the genesis of the project with the aging and death of his own mother, the personal meanings the film holds for him, the location scouting for an appropriate house for shooting, and his various drafts of the script. It’s presented in 1080p.
A making-of documentary shot during the production of the film featuring the director working on staging and shooting scenes and featuring interviews with the director and stars Juliette Binoche and Charles Berling runs for 26 minutes and is presented in 1080i.
Inventory is director Olivier Goinard’s tribute to the treasures and artifacts which are one of the focuses of Summer Hours, especially those relics which were based on objects of art from the Musée d’Orsay reproduced for the film. Interviewed are Summer Hours director Olivier Assayas and several museum curators who discuss the pieces and also the impressive set of fictitious artworks by the fictional painter Paul Berthier used in the movie. It runs 50 ½ minutes and is in 1080i.
The enclosed 24-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some lovely stills and behind-the-scenes shots from the movie, and a laudatory essay on the director and his movies by critic Kent Jones.
4/5 (not an average)
Summer Hours will take you by surprise, a quiet but effective treatise on the loss of personal history through the passing generations filmed with a thoughtful but precise eye by a talented French director. The Blu-ray version of the film looks lovely and is enhanced with some interesting bonus features. Recommended!