out of Five
Running time: 102
Summer Hours has strong performances and some impressively naturalistic direction, but it's also frequently dull and its lack of structure and overly talky script may prove frustrating to all but the most hardcore arthouse fans.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Summer Hours is divided into three parts. In the first part, we meet 75-year-old Helene (Edith Scob) and her three grown-up children - New York designer Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), China-based businessman Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) and Paris university professor Frederic (Charles Berling) – as they gather for Helene’s birthday at the country house that belonged to Helene’s famous artist uncle, Paul Berthier.
In the second part, the family reunite after Helene’s funeral and attempt to decide what to do with Berthier's estate, of which Helene was the sole heir. Finally, the family spend their final summer in the country house before it gets sold, with the family teenagers given permission to use the empty house for a massive party.
The performances are excellent, with Binoche, Renier and Berling all superb as the conflicting siblings. There's also strong support from Alice de Lencquesaing as troubled teen Sylvie, who has the film's most compelling (if under-used) subplot.
Assayas directs with an impressively naturalistic style, so that you often feel as if you're eavesdropping on a real family. The downside of that is that it's often as boring as watching a real family, as the discussions seem to go on for hours.
One of the film's biggest problems is that with so many characters, several subplots are left undeveloped - for example, there's a tantalising hint that as well as being Berthier's niece, Helene was also his lover, but this potentially scandalous avenue is never explored. Similarly, the plot is almost painfully uneventful and there are several dull stretches as a result.
In short, Summer Hours is strictly for arthouse fans, as its strong performances aren't enough to compensate for the longueurs of its overly talky script. That said, it'll definitely make you want to visit the Musee D'Orsay.
Summer Hours (L'Heure D'Ete) (PG)