01 September 2009

Summer Hours.

In the first scene of Summer Hours I expected the mother to die. She doesn't die then, but she dies later. The mysterious tension that lurks in the framing and pacing of Summer Hours is similar to Irma Vep and maybe indicative of Assayas (these are my first two), and certainly what Irma Vep said about the film industry Summer Hours says about the family. It shares messages of transience and ephemerality, and a sadness that's tactile but always looming, always arriving but never arrived. Or maybe arriving and then departing. At any rate there's motion in the emotion.

There was a moment in which I was sure the house was going to catch fire. I was actually positive. It's beyond my personal fatalism: Assayas purposely lingered the sound of hissing gas from the oven over the entire scene. It could and does make other statements about the scene, but I know Assayas wanted me to think there was going to be an explosion. He's plugged into a sense of cinema in the best way. He can read the audience and perform for them.

He's also a patient filmmaker, but one who delivers. If there's an ambiguity to these two films it's not because of a fractured utterance. And the narrative is elliptical but predictable. It cuts off right when it should and right when Assayas has completed his thought. It explores its layers to an appropriate degree and reveals each character as an architect for its design. For example in Summer Hours there is the child who wants to keep the estate, the child who needs to sell the estate, and the child who wants to keep and sell the estate. And they each kind of want to keep the estate because it's their mother's estate, a part of their family's history, an irreplaceable monument of their upbringing, and a sentimental part of their French nationalism. They don't keep the bulk of the estate (a few items to remind them of mother), and the value of the estate is translated into pecuniary terms. The eldest brother is an economist and he and the film make sure you understand how important that is. Except you can't disagree with the son who wants to finance his burgeoning career in China, really, can you? And what about the daughter who simply won't be around to appreciate the estate any longer? Well that's what Assayas asks.

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