513 Summer Hours

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
Message
Author
User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#51 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:45 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, AUGUST 18th AT 6:30 AM.

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.




***PM me if you have any suggestions for additions or just general concerns and questions.***

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#52 Post by Sloper » Wed Aug 06, 2014 8:03 am

Wonderful film, this - and there's already been some great discussion in the existing thread. I'd like to watch it a third time before posting properly, but I'd be interested to hear responses to these questions:

Why is Frédéric so appalled by the idea of an incestuous relationship between his mother and uncle, when everyone else seems to take it more or less in their stride?

Why is he so attached to the two Corot paintings in particular, and why does he regret losing them at the end?

Why is Adrienne upset by the quotation in her mother's obituary?

Why is she so keen to nab the silver tea set, despite having admitted to her mother in an earlier scene that it's not the kind of thing she is likely to use?

What place, if any, does Jérémie have in the family? Do the family, the house, or the objects within it, possess any real meaning for him?

More broadly, what does the film suggest about the relationships between these three siblings? It seems to me that they each have a strong (but highly individual) bond with the mother, and that once she is dead there is not much else to hold them together. Anyone want to disagree?

What is the effect (or what are the effects) when we see some of these objects - the reconstructed Degas sculpture, the Majorelle desk, the Bracquemond vase - displayed in the Musée d'Orsay?

What is the tone of those final scenes, where we see first Éloïse and then the teenagers visiting the house for one last time? Is a significant contrast implied by the juxtaposition of the two 'farewell visits'?

It seems like the daughter, Sylvie, is running away from the house at the end, climbing over the wall with her boyfriend in order to escape their friends and be alone together. I may have misunderstood... If I'm right, though, why does the film end like this? And please let me know if I'm wrong.

And why is 'Little Cloud' playing over the end credits?

User avatar
jindianajonz
Jindiana Jonz Abrams
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:11 pm

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#53 Post by jindianajonz » Wed Aug 06, 2014 11:52 am

Some great questions, Sloper!Here are my thoughts on a couple of them:
Why is Frédéric so appalled by the idea of an incestuous relationship between his mother and uncle, when everyone else seems to take it more or less in their stride?
Frederic's attitude towards his mom's possible relationship matches his feelings about the house and art pieces in general- he has an idealized view of them all, and has a very difficult time letting go of that view. The idea that the familiy will continue to get together and cherish the preserved house is quite unrealistic, but it's a nostalgic fantasy that he holds regardless. Likewise, he wants to "preserve" his rose tinted image of his mother, and finding out about her relationship with Paul (and honestly, this couldn't possibly be the first time he's been confronted with it) inpinges on this view.
Why is she so keen to nab the silver tea set, despite having admitted to her mother in an earlier scene that it's not the kind of thing she is likely to use?

What place, if any, does Jérémie have in the family? Do the family, the house, or the objects within it, possess any real meaning for him?

What is the tone of those final scenes, where we see first Éloïse and then the teenagers visiting the house for one last time? Is a significant contrast implied by the juxtaposition of the two 'farewell visits'?
I think these questions are all asking the same thing- what do the house and objects mean to those know knew Helene? I think it is easy to dismiss Jeremie as being a bit self centered and not appreciating Helene's things beyond their monetary value (I'm guessing Frederic would certainly feel this way) and it may be true, but it's also worth noting that his view that the stuff should be liquidated lest they become "tomb keepers" falls closest in line with Helene's wishes. It's possible that he loves these objects and their memories deeply, and pragmatically knows that it is time to move on from them, but I don't see enough clues in this film to do anything other than speculate.

I think Eloise is a very interesting character- she is the one who spent the most time in the house and around these objects, but she is also the one who has the least control over what happens to these things that are undoubtedly just as important to her as they are to the children. Certainly Helene played a bigger role in Eloise's day-to-day life than she did in her children's. While the children are focused on the possessions and "legacy" of Helene, Eloise is the one who seems to be mourning the loss of a person- she's the only one we see visiting Helene's grave. I thought the "secret masterpiece" bit with the vase was a nice touch, as it shows that her attachment to these objects is dictated entirely by their relationship to Helene and not their financial or artistic worth, especially when you consider how central fresh flowers were to their relationship.

I also really enjoyed Sylvie's party at the end of the film. While watching it the first time, it seemed disrespectful to have these kids smoking and skating in the hallowed grounds of the house. But thinking on it a bit more, this is a film that focuses on how characters come to terms with the fact that a source of cherished memories is going away, and Sylvie is the last person to try and use this house to create new memories rather than reminiscing on or (in Frederic's case) trying to relive old ones. When looking at it this way, I think it is actually kind of nice that she is using this house for "one last hurrah" before it leaves the family. I think by putting this scene next to Eloise's silent walkthrough of the grounds, Assayas not only shows two different but equally valid ways of letting go, but also emphasizes that characters who were at the periphery of most of the film are just as impacted by Helene's death as the more central trio of siblings.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#54 Post by Sloper » Fri Aug 08, 2014 8:47 am

jindianajonz wrote:Frederic's attitude towards his mom's possible relationship matches his feelings about the house and art pieces in general- he has an idealized view of them all, and has a very difficult time letting go of that view. The idea that the familiy will continue to get together and cherish the preserved house is quite unrealistic, but it's a nostalgic fantasy that he holds regardless. Likewise, he wants to "preserve" his rose tinted image of his mother, and finding out about her relationship with Paul (and honestly, this couldn't possibly be the first time he's been confronted with it) inpinges on this view.
Really interesting to consider this point in relation to the final conversation between Frédéric and Jérémie, where the latter tries to stand up for their put-upon father and qualify the alleged brilliance of their revered great uncle. On both points Frédéric contradicts his brother, defending the mother's treatment of the father on the basis that 'Paul Berthier was a great artist', and that 'No, you're wrong, everything he did was great'.

The others understand the real significance of Hélène's reverence for Berthier's art: Adrienne cites her mother's absorption in these paintings as evidence that she was well and truly in love with him. Frédéric, on the other hand, has simply bought into that reverence and tried to perpetuate it. He thus remains oblivious not only to the incestuous nature of the relationship, but also to the 'moving' quality it possessed, according to M. Waldemar - in the same way, his relentless talk of the Corots masks the fact that he never displays any appreciation of or enthusiasm for them as works of art. What they mean to him is family history, and what he hopes will be passed on to his own (totally uninterested) children.

The film makes it clear that Frédéric's attachment to and internalisation of his mother has a debilitating effect on him. After the interview with Paul Vernon, Frédéric keeps insisting (with the same vehemence we see later in his conversation with his brother) that it went badly, that his book interests no one, that it's too technical - these are all what he thinks are his mother's feelings about his work, crystallising in his mind on what we soon learn is the day of her death. When his agent tries to encourage him by pointing out that not only did he come across well in the interview, but his book has been very well received, he responds (I think), 'Non, je suis lucide.' [i.e., 'No, I know what I'm talking about.'] Earlier on his wife had told him that Hélène was 'plus lucide que toi' in her understanding of what would happen after her death. Now, Frédéric is using that same word to uphold what he always assumed (probably rightly) was his mother's rather thoughtless contempt for his career.

He can't defend himself against Vernon's accusation that he has dismissed his own work as 'vain', because that is precisely what he's done, perpetuating that maternal scorn in the very act of resisting it (because after all, his argument that economists are the priests of an irrational and misguided religion might just as easily apply to Hélène's maniacal devotion to her uncle and his memory - 'her mission' or 'her curse' as James and Adrienne respectively call it).

[Along the same lines, did anyone else think there was something quite Hélène-esque in Adrienne's gesture after she's been to see her mother's coprse, when she fights back the tears and raps her fist against her head? Edith Scob has such idiosyncratic body language in this film, and I wondered whether Binoche was channelling some of that here, indicating that her character too has internalised the overbearing mother. Perhaps that's one reason why she's crying here - same for Frédéric in his car. And perhaps we don't see Jérémie crying over his mother's death because he's the only one of the siblings who isn't burdened by that particular sort of inheritance. He's already done his mourning - for his father.]

This isn't to say that Frédéric is somehow 'wrong' to see things in the way he does. His perspective is limited, but it's also what allows him to give one of the Bracquemond vases to Éloïse. The other vase is beautiful when we see it on display in the museum, and it is in a sense quite sad that the other vase can't accompany it; but at the same time Éloïse's home is precisely where that vase ought to be, performing its primary function of holding and displaying flowers, and giving the otherwise neglected old woman a lasting connection to Hélène, the family and the house.

I love that sequence in the museum at the end, because it captures so perfectly the mixture of sadness and beauty in those embalmed, encaged works of art. The reconstructed Degas sculpture is beautiful, but even in that instance there's a weird sense of loss in knowing that it no longer resides in pieces in a plastic bag at the bottom of the Majorelle display case. It no longer carries the associations of that 'major drama' when the children broke it. 'C'est triste, mais c'est comme ça', said Hélène, claiming that the sculpture couldn't be repaired; but it's not like that any more, and that's kind of sad too.

Frédéric's idealisation of his mother's relationship with Paul Berthier is, to him, a crucial part of his idealised childhood, but it misses some important and valuable things (the real beauty of that relationship, the sensitivity of the marginalised husband). The disillusioning truth gives access to those lost treasures, but also taints Frédéric's childhood with incest, with the fact that he never understood or appreciated his father, and with the fact that his great-uncle wasn't quite such a great artist as he had thought.
jindianajonz wrote:I think it is easy to dismiss Jeremie as being a bit self centered and not appreciating Helene's things beyond their monetary value (I'm guessing Frederic would certainly feel this way) and it may be true, but it's also worth noting that his view that the stuff should be liquidated lest they become "tomb keepers" falls closest in line with Helene's wishes. It's possible that he loves these objects and their memories deeply, and pragmatically knows that it is time to move on from them, but I don't see enough clues in this film to do anything other than speculate.
He says himself that the house, and France generally, don't mean that much to him anymore. I'm not sure we see any evidence that the art means anything to him either - but as I mentioned above, his perspective on his father perhaps suggests what sort of connection he does have to the past.

Interesting that his wife, Angela, is portrayed in quite a negative light. She's awkward and prickly with the other family members, and is clearly one of the driving forces behind Jérémie's difficult speech about wanting to sell the house. Just before he starts talking, we see him stroke his wife's arm (the totally organic and fluid way in which the camera picks up on little details like this, and the attention to detail on the part of the director and actors which gives the camera something to pick up on, is what makes this film so rewarding to re-visit), as if to reassure her that he's going to do as he promised and stand up to his elder brother.

There are probably lots of ways to read this, but I get the sense that Jérémie has worked hard to distance himself from what is in many ways quite a dysfunctional family, and build a more stable, sane and modern family of his own in Shanghai. Angela's antipathy towards the Marlys is, among other things, a reflection of Jérémie's own less overtly manifested feelings about his family. He has a very clear-eyed and pragmatic insight into those ugly family truths - no wonder his wife clings to her stiff drink, and looks like she can't wait to get out of there.
jindianajonz wrote:I think Eloise is a very interesting character- she is the one who spent the most time in the house and around these objects, but she is also the one who has the least control over what happens to these things that are undoubtedly just as important to her as they are to the children. Certainly Helene played a bigger role in Eloise's day-to-day life than she did in her children's. While the children are focused on the possessions and "legacy" of Helene, Eloise is the one who seems to be mourning the loss of a person- she's the only one we see visiting Helene's grave.
Yes, and one nice thing about Éloïse is that this side of her character is never over-egged - even that last visit she pays to the house is just sentimental enough, and no more. She always remains quite stoic and matter-of-fact about everything, rather than falling into the stereotypical 'weeping old family retainer' role. There's a lovely moment when she says how hard it is seeing the house being emptied out, and Frédéric replies that it's hard for him too. 'Of course,' she says, 'it must be harder for the family.' She happily inhabits this subordinate position, even when it comes to mourning Hélène. The film shows how side-lined and un-appreciated she is, but the sense of tragedy here is of a very 'everyday' sort - little more than a sigh and a shrug.
jindianiajonz wrote:I think by putting this scene next to Eloise's silent walkthrough of the grounds, Assayas not only shows two different but equally valid ways of letting go, but also emphasizes that characters who were at the periphery of most of the film are just as impacted by Helene's death as the more central trio of siblings.
Very nicely put. There's a sense of symmetry here as well, because the film begins with the kids playing (a bit transgressively) in the grounds of the house before being reproached by Éloïse and told by Frédéric to 'take it easy' when stomping around their grandmother's house. And again there's that ambiguity so characteristic of the film as a whole, because as you say the old woman and the teenage children have equally valid ways of inhabiting and saying goodbye to the house.

So about the music... The song playing over the end credits is The Incredible String Band's late-60s psychedelic counter-culture classic, 'Little Cloud', in which a man is invited to float to wondrous lands by a rebelliously happy cloud who rains multi-coloured singing raindrops. Assayas said in an interview: 'I looked among the compositions of Robin Williamson and the Incredible String Band, a hippy group that was scorned for a while but which is being rediscovered today. Its blend of Celtic and Oriental tonalities evokes a childlike sense of wonder.' The tune playing over the title sequence, and Hélène's final scene, and Éloïse's final visit to the house, is 'Loftus Jones' (an 18th-century Irish tune by Turlough O'Carolan), as adapted and performed by ISB co-founder Robin Williamson on his 2006 album 'The Iron Stone'. The album's first track, 'The Climber', is about three sons who try to fulfil their father's dying wishes by climbing above the clouds.

Anyway, someone who knows more about this stuff could probably go further with it. But here's my interpretation: 'Loftus Jones' is a becalmed, melancholy and slightly deathly product of an artist's autumn years, still beautiful but drained of the transgressive instincts that characterised the work of his younger days, imbued instead with a sense of the weight and persistence of centuries-old traditions. But at the end of the film, to accompany the youthful, rebellious flight of Sylvie and Richard, we hear some of that same artist's early work (well, I think 'Little Cloud' was by Mike Heron), collapsing the gap between then and now, and between the spirit of the late-60s and that of the (also pot-smoking) youth of 2007. Their own loud and insolent music might seem worlds away from 'Little Cloud', but the film (as always) underlines continuity as well as distance. The tone of this ending, like the scene in the museum, is both melancholy and optimistic.

User avatar
Drucker
Your Future our Drucker
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#55 Post by Drucker » Sun Aug 10, 2014 4:01 pm

Eloise was definitely one of my favorite characters, and I agree with jindiana when he says that Frédéric has an idealized view of pretty much everyone else in his family (look how torn up and shocked he is that his teenage daughter has a boyfriend and smokes a little pot!)

I wasn't as enamored with the film as both of you two sound. It really didn't hit me until the third act that the film is really about the evolution of our lives, about that feeling as the world sometimes moves forward faster than you are prepared for it to. You always think that if you had a little more time, you could deal, but nothing gets you ready for a parent's death, or your kids growing up. There's a moment I believe towards the end where Frederic is crying? It really was a beautiful thing when both father and daughter, in nearly adjacent scenes, realize their past is really the past, and perhaps they've taken something in their lives for granted. That tradition which only existed for tradition's sake is kind of gone. Cliche, but you don't know what you got til it's gone.

And perhaps the most daunting feeling is on Frederic. Frederic stands apart so significantly from his siblings. Likely, he was the "favorite", and he certainly seems the most attached to his own past. But why? I feel like the characters had some underutilized potential. I suppose, now that I've read both of your praise for the film, there's something great about the film's dealing with just the immediate aftermath of the mother's death, but there's a lack of a back story to me. I would have loved an explanation of why the mother and daughter weren't close, and the brother in China too. Perhaps it's inferred that the distance from their mother at the party, and their having moved to the end of the world is all the detail I need to appreciate the distance in their relationship, but I could never get a real grip on these admittedly interesting characters, as I don't know what makes them tick.

The ending of the film is beautiful, and the strong relationship between Frederic and his daughter make it for me. I think I got it and did truly enjoy most of it. But a little bit of time devoted to helping explain to me how we got to where we end up in the film would have helped. There's something missing for me that's kind of hard to explain.

User avatar
jindianajonz
Jindiana Jonz Abrams
Joined: Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:11 pm

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#56 Post by jindianajonz » Mon Aug 11, 2014 11:12 am

Drucker wrote:And perhaps the most daunting feeling is on Frederic. Frederic stands apart so significantly from his siblings. Likely, he was the "favorite", and he certainly seems the most attached to his own past. But why? I feel like the characters had some underutilized potential. I suppose, now that I've read both of your praise for the film, there's something great about the film's dealing with just the immediate aftermath of the mother's death, but there's a lack of a back story to me. I would have loved an explanation of why the mother and daughter weren't close, and the brother in China too. Perhaps it's inferred that the distance from their mother at the party, and their having moved to the end of the world is all the detail I need to appreciate the distance in their relationship, but I could never get a real grip on these admittedly interesting characters, as I don't know what makes them tick.
Its interesting that what you saw as central points (the family drama/relationship between characters, and the more internal and individual struggle in coping with the loss of a parent or child growing up) i saw as more tangential. For me, this film is primarily about how people relate to objects and give objects meaning. Frederic is reluctant to give up the large, expensive, and permanent peices of Helene's collection because he sees a bit of her in each piece, while Eloise seems to place her memories of Helene in fresh boquets of flowers that every day get thrown out and replaced (and also makes her choice to take a vase quite fitting). Jeromie sees these objects as a way for him to further his own dreams, while Sylvie is the only one who actually appreciates the utilitarian value of what Helene has left behind. I think that Adrienne is the only one who sees the artistic value of some of these pieces, given that she is shown admiring the craftsmanship and has said that she has no desire to actually use it- it seems likely that she intends to display this piece as artwork

In fact, it is surprising that in a film that is filled with beautiful museum quality art, this is the only time we see somebody in the family appreciating these objects for their own inherent artistry rather than the context of Helene's life. Frederic especially seems incapable of understanding the value of these objects cut off from Helene, lamenting that people just pass by it in the Orsay without understanding where it came from. It also makes me wonder what Helene's attachment to these things was- the fact that every prominant object came from Paul's artistic eye rather than her own implies that, like her children, she is valuing these objects for their associations than their beauty. Perhaps this is why she wanted her children to avoid becoming tomb keepers- She saw these things as more a part of Paul's life than her own, and may not have understood that for her own children these objects had such a strong connection to herself.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#57 Post by Sloper » Sat Aug 16, 2014 5:57 am

Drucker wrote:There's a moment I believe towards the end where Frederic is crying? It really was a beautiful thing when both father and daughter, in nearly adjacent scenes, realize their past is really the past, and perhaps they've taken something in their lives for granted. That tradition which only existed for tradition's sake is kind of gone.
Frédéric cries just after picking out the cemetery plot for his mother - it's quite early in the film. However, I think you're right that there is an association being set up here between father and daughter. Frédéric is driving when he starts to cry, and has to pull over for a minute. The scene is filmed in a very striking way, with the trees and sky overhead reflected very clearly in the car's windscreen, all but obliterating our view of Frédéric himself. You can see this ethereal reflection of the leafy, skyey environment rushing by, and then achieving stasis for a moment when Frédéric stops the car to give full vent to his grief. The scene then cuts to a long shot which locates the car within this environment, among the vibrant green trees that have been associated with Hélène's house from the start. Perhaps the imagery here evokes precisely what you say in your post: the sense of a place and a time ('l'heure d'été' sums up quite well what the house represents) vanishing, and also of Frédéric's emotionally 'stalled' condition in the wake of his mother's death.

Similar imagery is used in the scene where Frédéric collects Sylvie from the police station. As they sit arguing in the car, green foliage is reflected in the windows on both sides. I think the subliminal effect of this parallel is to make the characters seem haunted by that house, that idyllic environment, by Hélène and/or by whatever these things mean to them, even when they're not explicitly talking about them. Immediately after this, on the drive home, Frédéric gets a call from the Musée d’Orsay, and Sylvie remarks that they can never have a proper conversation; just after this, for a split second, we see Paul Berthier's last sketch lovingly framed in Frédéric's apartment before he and his daughter arrive home; then the son remarks that he has no choice but to take an interest in the negotiations over Hélène's legacy, because it's all his father talks about.

The obvious point to take from all this is that Frédéric is allowing the house and all that comes with it to impinge upon his own family (note that his wife also gets sick of hearing about the Corots). This ties into the key point of contrast between him and his siblings, namely that he seems more heavily burdened by the family legacy. But it's also important to take the ending into account, and recognise that Sylvie has her own attachment to the house, to her grandmother, to the past - she also feels the loss of these things deeply.

I'll come back to this in a minute, but one point I wanted to make here was about the imagery in this film: we've mostly been speaking about it in terms of the characters, which seems appropriate. But no less crucial are the environments within which these characters operate, and the objects that populate those environments.

As I said before, the camera does a lot of (seemingly effortless) work keeping track of the characters and their subtle interactions, often in intense close-ups, but it works just as hard to draw our attention to places and objects. Quite often we linger on a shot of a setting even when the characters are absent. The opening shot (after the credits) establishes the verdant grounds of the family estate; when Frédéric visits the cemetery, the camera pauses after he walks off-screen, as though to take in the view from the gravestones (what Hélène will be looking out on from now on); at the post-funeral family meal, the camera goes out of its way several times to notice the table full of food, the quiches, the roast, etc; the Bracquemond vase is given a subtle emphasis every time it appears; and the dialogue cleverly helps to make all these places and objects conspicuous.

The sequence in the museum is a nice summation of this visual technique, because the camera prowls around like a visiting art-lover, lingering over beautiful objects - but notice that when we see the reconstructed Degas sculpture, we also see that plastic carrier bag in the background (the one Hélène kept the pieces in), an improbable detail in a practical sense (why would the museum staff keep the bag lying around after emptying it?) but crucial thematically because it shows how the film has established a kind of equivalence, or at least association, between these great artworks and the more mundane household objects that accompanied them (Éloïse made no distinction).

And of course that association bleeds into the characters as well, so that when I said in a previous post that the sight of the reconstructed Degas sculpture was kind of sad, I was unconsciously responding to the plastic bag in the background, and its associations with the brothers who destroyed that sculpture while playing together when they were children, but whose irreparable separation goes hand in hand with the putting-together of the sculpture (notice the rather forced bits of fraternal intimacy between them, like the fist-bump/handshake thing that seems like a half-remembered remnant of their childhood). The film is full of stuff like this.

The never-installed phone system is another obvious recurring object - still there when Éloïse visits the emptied-out house, still with the yellow post-it note Hélène wrote to remind herself to call Frédéric. As we watch Éloïse traipsing around outside the house, we too feel the tug of past connections when we remember the tenderness with which Frédéric ran his finger over that post-it note (at the moment when he came to terms with his mother's relationship with her uncle), and when we remember that the last time we saw Hélène she was unpacking that phone set, and when we remember the birthday party where she received this present - which was the moment when we first got to know her, endearingly unashamed, difficult, prickly, un-gracious, and proud as she was. A huge amount of thought has gone into figuring out the relations between all the 'stuff' and all the people in this film, and then into tracing those relations through the apparently artless but in fact very precise camerawork and compositions.
Drucker wrote:...but there's a lack of a back story to me. I would have loved an explanation of why the mother and daughter weren't close, and the brother in China too. Perhaps it's inferred that the distance from their mother at the party, and their having moved to the end of the world is all the detail I need to appreciate the distance in their relationship, but I could never get a real grip on these admittedly interesting characters, as I don't know what makes them tick.
This bothered me as well - after a first viewing, I felt that there wasn't enough sense that these characters were related, that they really knew each other well. They felt so alienated. But of course that's exactly the point. And it's something jindiana picks up on as well:
jindianajonz wrote:Its interesting that what you saw as central points (the family drama/relationship between characters, and the more internal and individual struggle in coping with the loss of a parent or child growing up) i saw as more tangential. For me, this film is primarily about how people relate to objects and give objects meaning. [...] It also makes me wonder what Helene's attachment to these things was- the fact that every prominant object came from Paul's artistic eye rather than her own implies that, like her children, she is valuing these objects for their associations than their beauty. Perhaps this is why she wanted her children to avoid becoming tomb keepers- She saw these things as more a part of Paul's life than her own, and may not have understood that for her own children these objects had such a strong connection to herself.
Great post, and you made sense of a number of things I hadn't quite made sense of in my own head (especially about Adrienne in the un-quoted part of your post). I was going to respond to Drucker's comment by saying that the film doesn't explicitly fill in too much of the backstory because it wants us to read and interpret the myriad details it serves up to us in the form of objects, glances, gestures, etc.

But your remark here prompts me to think that this film is centrally about a family bound together more by objects than by any feelings they might actually have about each other. This all goes back to Hélène, and the kind of mother she seems to have been to her three children. There are about a thousand clues, in that first half hour of the film, that tell us how hard she finds it to take any real interest in her children or their lives. She doesn't like the idea of getting older, or of celebrating the fact, which is natural enough; but in this case, it isn't old age as such she doesn't like, but simply the fact that her uncle is no longer around. It feels as though her whole life has stood still since the moment, thirty-five years earlier, when he died, and she hasn't really been concerned about keeping track of her children's progress since then. Her embarrassment when Adrienne and Jérémie argue over the virtues of cheaply manufactured trainers is, on closer inspection, not really embarrassment but boredom. What seems urgent and important to them seems distant and irrelevant to her.

Adrienne eagerly gives her mother the book ('not a real present', but then Hélène doesn't want presents - she wants this memorial to Paul Berthier), and when she later congratulates her mother on having done such a great job of preserving the great-uncle's work, the slightly grudging tone in her voice and expression tells us so much. Binoche plays this role to perfection: it's a beautifully observed study of the narcissistic mother's daughter, playing up to Hélène's obsession but hating herself and her mother, just a little, in the process. There is just the right mixture of cool disdain and resentful neediness in her interactions with her mother.

Sure enough, Hélène is quickly absorbed in the book, but when Adrienne starts talking about the lotus-leaf tray and the silver tea set, her mother looks up and seems to become interested again - but again, her expression when listening to her daughter's dream might just as easily convey boredom, and at the end of the scene she drifts into a memory of a trip with Paul in the early 60s, when he acquired the tea set. She remembers how badly the trip went for him, but smiles incongruously; a bad time for him, but that meant he needed her (her youth, beauty, unconditional adoration, etc.) and she could be close to him. Her smile here tells us so much about what kind of relationship she had with her uncle, and about her present detachment from the lives of her children.

And of course she can barely listen to Frédéric's career woes for more than thirty seconds without changing the subject to discuss the bloody Antonin Daum vases.

So alienation is the keynote of this family, and it seems to have trickled down from the mother. But while these characters may not seem to have particularly strong bonds with each other, they are not simply alienated and isolated. Indeed, far from lamenting whatever is 'lost' here in terms of family relations, the film celebrates the articulation of individuality, and individual desires, and the development of new families in new environments.

Jérémie and Adrienne seem to be the most successful of the siblings in this regard, while Frédéric seems more burdened and even hobbled by the weight of family tradition. But we don't leave him on that sour note of slamming the door behind his daughter - instead, we last see him finally realising he needs to shut up about the Corots, and realising at the same time that his children don't need to behave themselves in their grandmother's house after all; that they can honour their grandmother's and great-great-uncle's memory best of all by just doing whatever the hell they want to. (It's not insignificant that Frédéric is eating a dessert in this scene.) And Sylvie clearly understands this, not just by smoking pot and playing loud music, but finally by abandoning her friends and running off with Richard, climbing over a wall in a climactic gesture of boundary-crossing individuality. I think Assayas said in an interview that he deliberately used a freer shooting style in this final sequence as well.

Just to mention 'Little Cloud' once more, its message - that happiness consists in naïve, childlike, non-conformist individualism - seems very much in tune with the real legacy Hélène has handed down to her family, simply by the example of her own life. So again there's this sense of balance: the painful consequences of Hélène's narcissistic parenting style are placed alongside the liberating effects of the self-expression she has implicitly fostered in her children.

User avatar
Drucker
Your Future our Drucker
Joined: Wed May 18, 2011 9:37 am

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#58 Post by Drucker » Sat Aug 16, 2014 8:36 am

Sloper, excellent post as usual. You and jindiana have definitely helped me appreciate the importance of objects in this film. And the more I read your posts and think back about the film, it's almost amazing how shallow these people could be seen.

"Little Cloud" is a beautiful song. Do you think there's a parallel to how the narrator of "Little Cloud" is being chastised by his/her cloud peers? And the fact that Frederic seems to be imploring everyone (including his mother) that she should just care a little more?

AnamorphicWidescreen
Joined: Tue Apr 16, 2013 12:21 am

Re: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)

#59 Post by AnamorphicWidescreen » Fri Aug 22, 2014 5:32 pm

Reading these recent posts again make me want to go & re-watch Summer Hours. I have to be in the right mood to see this because, to be honest, viewing the film makes me quite emotional. It's such a grim reminder of the fact that things change, whether we want them to or not.
Sloper wrote:More broadly, what does the film suggest about the relationships between these three siblings? It seems to me that they each have a strong (but highly individual) bond with the mother, and that once she is dead there is not much else to hold them together. Anyone want to disagree?
I completely agree with the above 100%. Obviously, the mother is the "glue" that holds the siblings together, and they don't have much else in common at this point in their lives. They all live in different parts of the world, and only come together to see the mother at their family gatherings, which (before the mother's passing) seemed to take place about once or twice a year. Presumably, after the mother passed away they will probably see each other even less, if at all.

I don't see this as a condemnation of any of the characters, however. Most of us grow up & leave home at some point, and we're not necessarily all close to our siblings after that. People move to different parts of the country/world for work, etc. The different siblings in the film were a good example of how globalization is causing families to drift apart...Frederic is the only one that still lives in France; his sister lives in NY, and his brother in Asia. As was mentioned, it's unlikely that the sister & brother were going to live in France again at any point, since they had their own lives/jobs elsewhere. IMHO, this was done to show Frederic as being the one that had the most connection to the house since he still lived in the area; and, that was why he the only one arguing for keeping the house & the belongings intact.

The scene with the youthful party at the very end was quite poignant...I was quite moved by the scene with the granddaughter (and her boyfriend) where she briefly pauses to sadly remember her grandmother....Then, when she realizes that their friends may find them, is shaken back into the present & goes over the wall to hide from them, showing that life goes on...

Harry Caul
Joined: Sun Jan 22, 2017 1:59 am

Re: 513 Summer Hours

#60 Post by Harry Caul » Mon Jan 23, 2017 7:24 pm

Summer Hours is a truly extraordinary, amazing movie; and, the observations/comments made here are the most thoughtful & insightful ones I've read for this film.

One of my favorite scenes is the dinner that takes place shortly after the three siblings get together in order to discuss whether or not to sell the house, the artwork, etc. When they are discussing the way their late mother talked about her uncle (the late artist Paul Berthier), two of them clearly felt that their mother probably had an inappropriate "relationship" with him. And, what's extremely interesting about this scene is that, right before the conversation started, Jeremie's wife Angela had just left the group to take a phone call & Frederic's wife was in another room - so it was just the three siblings there discussing the mother. The implication is that if any of the wives had also been in the room they may not have been as open in their speculation about their mother's relationship with Paul. The movie is filled with brilliant (but subtle) scenes like this.

Unfortunately, the movie is very relatable to me these days; I just recently lost my grandmother - she was in her '90's, and had been ill for the last several years. So, while this came as no surprise, it was quite sad all the same. Obviously this is not as traumatic as losing a parent, but it was still quite a blow.

I can also really relate to the way the adult siblings act towards each other; they obviously only see each other 1-2 times a year (if that), and have become virtual strangers, given that they all live in different parts of the world. I myself left home/family years ago & only see them around the holidays, special occasions, etc. I can't really relate to them that much anymore - though I'm sure I'm not unusual in that sense either.
Sloper wrote:Interesting that his wife, Angela, is portrayed in quite a negative light. She's awkward and prickly with the other family members, and is clearly one of the driving forces behind Jérémie's difficult speech about wanting to sell the house. Just before he starts talking, we see him stroke his wife's arm (the totally organic and fluid way in which the camera picks up on little details like this, and the attention to detail on the part of the director and actors which gives the camera something to pick up on, is what makes this film so rewarding to re-visit), as if to reassure her that he's going to do as he promised and stand up to his elder brother.

There are probably lots of ways to read this, but I get the sense that Jérémie has worked hard to distance himself from what is in many ways quite a dysfunctional family, and build a more stable, sane and modern family of his own in Shanghai. Angela's antipathy towards the Marlys is, among other things, a reflection of Jérémie's own less overtly manifested feelings about his family. He has a very clear-eyed and pragmatic insight into those ugly family truths - no wonder his wife clings to her stiff drink, and looks like she can't wait to get out of there.
I have a completely different take on Jeremie's wife Angela - I see her as being very passive, and she doesn't make much of an impression on me, one way or the other. Obviously she's supporting her husband re: his decision to want to sell the house/art. However, I don't sense that she harbors any special resentment - or ill feeling at all, really - towards her husband's side of the family. I also don't necessarily think it was soley her idea to want to sell the house/art - I think that was primarily Jeremie. Jeremie works & lives in Asia because it's a good job opportunity & good money for himself & his family - as he mentioned in the opening scene at his mother's birthday party. I don't think he necessarily moved there to get away from his siblings/mother (but I guess you could read it that way).

Yes, Jeremie & Angela are obviously uncomfortable at the dinner (when the discussion re: whether or not to sell the house comes up) but this is completely understandable, given the circumstances. I think this entire scene is fascinating, since it really displays the dichotomy between all three siblings - i.e., Frederic is the only one who feels an attachment to the house/art & therefore wants to keep them; but, the other two siblings, who are living halfway around the world & as such are thinking in more practical terms - could honestly care less. I think it's obvious to anyone that keeping the house/art "in the family" would require a lot of upkeep (maintenance, etc.) & money - and, that it's better for everyone (especially Frederic, who, since he lives in France - will have to deal with the day-to-day upkeep issues more than the other two) to just sell/donate everything so they won't have to deal with it any longer. Obviously, the only reason they kept coming back to the house was to visit the mother - and, with her gone, the house would pretty much lose any relevance/meaning it has for them.

And, remember, in a later scene (at the café, after the will is read) Jeremie & Frederic are getting along & I don't sense that they have any kind of animosity towards each other; one of the few light/amusing sequences in the film is this scene, when they wonder if Adrienne had just rushed off because she didn't want to be around them any more - LOL. In any case, I actually find this family a lot less "dysfunctional" than a lot of real-life families I know; no one blows up at anyone else, and they come to the decision to sell the house in a civilized way - despite the fact that Frederic obviously doesn't want to do this - at least not initially.

As has been mentioned, one of the film's central themes is the idea that, in order to move on, you have to let go of objects (in this case the house/art) even if you want to keep them around to remind you of the past. My sense is that at the end of the film, Frederic is finally realizing this - even though he was opposed to it earlier.
Sloper wrote:Really interesting to consider this point in relation to the final conversation between Frédéric and Jérémie, where the latter tries to stand up for their put-upon father and qualify the alleged brilliance of their revered great uncle. On both points Frédéric contradicts his brother, defending the mother's treatment of the father on the basis that 'Paul Berthier was a great artist', and that 'No, you're wrong, everything he did was great'.

The others understand the real significance of Hélène's reverence for Berthier's art: Adrienne cites her mother's absorption in these paintings as evidence that she was well and truly in love with him. Frédéric, on the other hand, has simply bought into that reverence and tried to perpetuate it. He thus remains oblivious not only to the incestuous nature of the relationship, but also to the 'moving' quality it possessed, according to M. Waldemar - in the same way, his relentless talk of the Corots masks the fact that he never displays any appreciation of or enthusiasm for them as works of art. What they mean to him is family history, and what he hopes will be passed on to his own (totally uninterested) children.
Good analysis. I'm sure that Frederic has been closer to the mother than the other siblings; it's certain that he saw her more often - given that they both lived in France. And, as such, he may have had much more of an idealized view of her than the other two - whose physical/emotional distance from their mother over the years had probably served to give them a more subjective insight towards what really went on between her & PB. It's interesting that in the aforementioned dinner conversation, both Jeremie & Adrienne had a completely different view of their mother than Frederic.

However, the later conversation that Frederic has with Helene's friend (the older guy wearing the scarf; his name escapes me) in the house pretty much confirms that, yes, Helene and her uncle had "that" type of relationship. And, it's obvious at this point in the film that Frederic has finally - though grudgingly - accepted this as something that actually happened....it's interesting that his acceptance here is a far cry from his arguments about this same issue that he had with his siblings a short?! time before. Again, this just shows that he is finally accepting things & moving on with his life.

And, this begs another question - though this is never suggested or even implied throughout the film, did anyone else think that it was at least possible that at least one (or more) of Helene's children were fathered by Paul Berthier?! None of the siblings look alike (sure, I know it's because the actors are not actually related) but that in & of itself doesn't necessarily mean much. However, though there is never any discussion on this, it's something to think about.
jindianajonz wrote:Its interesting that what you saw as central points (the family drama/relationship between characters, and the more internal and individual struggle in coping with the loss of a parent or child growing up) i saw as more tangential. For me, this film is primarily about how people relate to objects and give objects meaning.
Well, you can't separate the death of Helene & her children coming to terms with this (especially Frederic) from the way that her children see the objects associated with her - i.e., the house/art. Frederic wants to keep these things in the family so he & his children can remember his mother, and the film is centered around that theme.

User avatar
therewillbeblus
Joined: Tue Dec 22, 2015 3:40 pm

Re: 513 Summer Hours

#61 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 18, 2020 11:43 am

I'm not sure I have much more substance to add to this already incredible thread, but agree with swo that this clicked for me a lot more the second time. The subtle cyclical processes of clinging to, and breaking from, our perceptions of events, values, and meaning are issued with an authentic fluidity, and Assayas' interest in generational shifts and the subjective connotations found in tangible elements (be them physical objects, places, memories) has never been expressed so well. I love how the maid chooses the vase as an object to keep because she can continuously put flowers in it and think of her employer to keep the energy of that relationship alive. Even a very distinct handshake greeting between the brothers in one later scene insinuates a historic bond and developed relationship beyond what we could possibly be shown through cinema, expressed here via a passive physical act of reciprocal affection. These aren't accidents, and even if it's a blink-and-you-miss it moment, Assayas thrives off of the kind of substance in these elusive interactions to formulate meaning in the world.

I was sitting on the roof of my last apartment a few years ago, and found myself becoming increasingly preoccupied with gazing at the houses around mine and wondering about the histories that have occurred within them, the memories that have been and continue to be sparked by those schemas, and how full ranges of emotions and experiences have likely belonged to those places - and yet they belong to the beholders divorced from the physical. The idea that an experience 'matters' subjectively is so profound when paired with the objective variable that canonizes it and yet is accessible to everyone. We hold onto tangible signifiers in desperate attempts to feed these experiences with life, but they can and are also refurbished to pave the way for new experiences. These 'things' become simultaneously ours alone, and shared, over time. This is a film that reminds me of that feeling I had on my rooftop, and makes me grateful for the countless 'things' and places that have shaped my identity, others' before me, others' as I write this, and others' for years to come.

The kids' utilization of the space at the end (and most significantly the final shot following them as they jump over the wall and move through "new" space in the woods outside the property) is such an optimistic exhibition of this connective thread, that refuses to desecrate or erase the past while making room for development into a new specialized set of meaningful experiences. They don't just remain stagnant in the same place, but traverse beyond the walls to find their own way to participate in the world individually with a unique essence that belongs to no one else. It's one of the most beautiful expressions of this reality, and Assayas' best drama.

nitin
Joined: Sat Nov 08, 2014 6:49 am

Re: 513 Summer Hours

#62 Post by nitin » Tue May 19, 2020 3:55 am

The ending scenes are just sublime IMHO.

Post Reply