A film as slow-moving and humorless as Summer Hours should make me want to stab myself in the neck with the sharp end of a frozen carrot, but Olivier Assayas's family melodrama (now available on DVD, etc.) held a strange power over me until 2 a.m. last night. Yup, it's French.
You see, this story about three adult siblings who gently squabble over what to do with a large inheritance, which includes a lovely country house and a valuable art collection, screams—and I mean SCREAMS—Chekhov. The movie's well-to-do French people have the luxury to sit around and argue over things, the way Chekhov's wealthy Russians have time to sit around and contemplate their own ennui.
What drew me into Summer Hours (also known as L'heure d'été) is the fact that it's bursting with ideas—about art, death, legacy, and, well, the strange power that inanimate objects can hold over us. Time, memory, and context infuse those objects with life. And could the film also be an elegy for a France that once was?
Personally, I didn't care so much about how the three siblings (including a blond Juliette Binoche) would resolve their differences as much as I cared about the subplot of the country house's displaced maid, whose simple wisdom and unassuming contribution's to the movie's big themes, are lovely and little bit heartbreaking.
(But maybe Tom Hanks, whose production company is doing the American remake, has the good sense to throw in a few explosions to jazz things up a little bit?)