Review: L’Heure D’été (Summer Hours, 2008)

summer hours

A death in the family is always tough, but it’s even tougher when looked at from an outside lens!

Written By: Olivier Assayas
Directed By: Olivier Assayas

L’Heure D’été is my first film from the French director Olivier Assayas. To be honest I had no idea what to expect from Monsieur Assayas. I had heard plenty of positive buzz about his body of work as a director. But, none of that positive buzz was very descriptive or pinpoint in its positive nature. While I knew that Monsieur Assayas was a well respected director who a lot of my cinephile friends really dug, I had very little understanding of why that was going into L’Heure D’été. My lack of knowledge concerning Monsieur Assayas left me with no preconceptions going into L’Heure D’été and I firmly believe it helped me to more fully embrace the picture.

Monsieur Assayas’ 2008 film is about the changing landscape of family in relation to the times. Truth be told if L’Heure D’été took place fifty to a hundred years ago there would be no central issue in the film. At that point in time the odds would be stacked highly in favor of the three central kids having stayed close to home and/or taking on the family home upon the death of their mother. The art collection would not be divvied up, the help would not be let go, and everything would be put into motion for the grandkids to eventually inherit the house and the art collection. But, L’Heure D’été does not take place fifty to a hundred years ago and that makes for a much more interesting set of circumstances. The reality of the changing family is looked at head on, and the results are not always as peachy keen as one would hope.

The telling moment in L’Heure D’été was the final sequence of the film and how that was the culmination of the many little moments that told the truth of the modern family during the film. That party was essential to show how while the family landscape may have changed it doesn’t mean that the landscape of life has changed. Things will be different in fifty or so years when the three main siblings we follow throughout L’Heure D’été have passed away. But, life will go on and their kids will grieve and deal with the loss in their own way. That Monsieur Assayas shows such a firm grasp of the realities of life changing and going on at the same time is no small feat. The wheels of life are always in motion, and most of the time we are merely along for the ride. Monsieur Assayas conveys this well through the isolated moments approach that his film takes on and carries through to the very end.

Another important aspect of L’Heure D’été is that of choice. The family landscape didn’t just up and change on its own, it changed because people now have more choices. In the past the three siblings would have been tied down to France, forever entrenched into their family home. Instead they are free to pursue their own fates, to divorce themselves from their familial ties and make their own way in the world. Choice is what brings about that ability to divorce or stay put, and choice is what drives all of the characters in L’Heure D’été. At the end of the film it is clear that the grandkids have begun to make their own choices and that as they carry on with their lives they will follow their own path divorced from the paths that their parents took.

In all the elements that matter L’Heure D’été is a wonderfully sublime film. I spent a lot of time writing about the themes of the film because those are what affected me the most. But, in all the technical categories L’Heure D’été is a rousing success as well. The scenes are constructed, framed, and filmed in an eye catching fashion without ever resorting to flashiness. The acting is reserved in ways that help to make not only the performances but the entirety of the story far more believable. Outside of a few moments where the film falls into a prolonged lull there were no gaffs or mishaps in L’Heure D’été. It is the first film I’ve seen from Monsieur Assayas, but I can say with definitive clarity that L’Heure D’été will not be the last film I watch from Monsieur Assayas.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: L’Heure D’été (Summer Hours, 2008)

  1. This is a film I’m set to watch next year. I have seen a few things by Assayas. Notably Clean and Carlos. The latter of which is a mini-series about Carlos the Jackal that is just truly a marvel to watch.

  2. Carlos is a film I plan to see at some point, but it seems like such a daunting task that I don’t know when I’ll get around to it.

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