With Summer Hours, director Olivier Assayas stages a tactical retreat from the hookers and junkies of his Boarding Gate and Clean to the heart of a bourgeois French family. Summer Hours opens with a gaggle of first cousins romping around the verdant grounds of the rustic estate, somewhere north of Paris, where their parents grew up. The occasion is a 75th-birthday celebration for their chic grandmother, Hélène (Edith Scob). Assayas, who has always excelled at choreographing a fete, uses the first half-hour to introduce Hélène's three grown children, as well as her devotion to the estate. For all the local color, there's a global backbeat: The youngest child (Jérémie Renier) runs a Puma factory in China; his sister (Juliette Binoche) is a New York designer; and, though living in Paris, the eldest son, Frédéric (Charles Berling), is an economist. Lunch devoured, everyone rushes off, leaving Hélène to sit in the dark. She's alone—and she does die, off-screen, perhaps a year later. Too chatty to be ascetic, Summer Hours is nevertheless almost Ozu-like in its evocation of a parent's death and the dissolving bond between the surviving children. It's also an essay on the nature of sentimental and real value—as well as the need to protect French culture in a homogenizing world. Assayas has his own preservationist agenda. Praised as "classically French" by the hipsters of culture weekly Les Inrockuptibles, Summer Hours exemplifies, even as it ponders, France in the age of unstoppable globalization.
Binoche joins the Assayas clan.
Opens at Harvard Exit, Fri., May 29. Not rated. 102 minutes.