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September is International Film Fest month in several Canadian cities.  Kicking off was the prominent TIFF (Toronto, world’s largest FF), now’s the CIFF (Calgary), and later on in the month, the VIFF (Vancouver).  Last year I was able to catch a glimpse from each one of these events.  But this year I’ll just stick with Calgary.

Went to see French director Olivier Assayas’ (Paris, je t’aime, 2006; Clean, 2004)  Summer Hours last night, the only screening in Calgary.  Writing the script himself, Assayas has created a film so realistic that it seems like a docudrama.  The story is about three adult siblings dealing with the estate of their mother (Edith Scob), a treasure house filled with objets d’arts, from furniture to vases, paintings to artist notebooks.  It’s a visual delight for the art lovers in the audience, albeit the camera doesn’t stay long enough for us to savor… I’d love to see more close-up lingering shots of the notebooks.

What’s realistic of course is, while the objects can easily be passed on from one generation to the next, the emotions and sentiments associated with them cannot.  The eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling) wishes to leave the house as is so everyone in the family can still stop by and cherish the memories, but his other two siblings think otherwise.  Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) works as a designer in New York and is soon getting married.  Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) works with a sports manufacturing company in China and is settled there with his family.  Though all appreciate the memories of their childhood home in France and the artifacts within, they have their own life to live and family to raise elsewhere.  Their decision of how to deal with their mother’s estate is a practical one, sell it.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is the honorable recipient of these personal treasures.  Actually, Assayas was commissioned by the Museum to create the film in celebration of its 20th anniversary.  Here we see the pathos of turning family heirloom into museum pieces, albeit handled gently and meticulously by the staff.  Herein lies the crux of the film.  Assayas has depicted the human side of objets d’arts that we see in museums, how they could have been everyday household items, a table on which notes have been scribbled and letters written, a vase that has held many cut flowers from the garden.  These have been objects used and enjoyed privately by families, but are now desensitized, hung or displayed in a public arena.  The personal and subjective experiences could never be captured by the public eye.

The last scene is a closure for the pain of letting go.  The teenage grandchildren have one last chance to enjoy the house and its idyllic setting as they hold a large party for their friends.  The young immerse themselves in loud music, dancing, doping, and dipping in the pond, unaware of the passing of one era to the next.  A brief moment of sadness takes hold of the oldest granddaughter, as she savors a lingering memory in the garden.  She is joined by her boyfriend for a brief reminiscence and the next moment, they quickly dash back to the house to rejoin the party.  Assayas has painted the poignant in a most subtle manner.

~ ~ ½ Ripples

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