Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maggie 2010: A Round of Resounding Recs, Part III

#88. Summer Hours

For many, film is a form of entertainment not meant to impinge on their sense of reality. Film should have a coherent plot-line, clear adversaries, exciting stand-offs, and either a victorious ending for the morally justified character or a darn good reason for his or her failure therein.

This is the film I want people who feel this way to view. The rest of you can watch, too. Everyone should watch this film. Summer Hours isn't about family, or death; the plot-line sustains dissonance without adversaries; and the ending is what it is, with no clear sense of right or wrong really possible. Even films I love deeply for their celebration of human life -- Man on Wire, The White Diamond, Ikiru, Wings of Desire -- don't achieve the level of quiet authority present here without some sort of cheat, some extraordinary circumstance that puts the nature of humanity in sharp question.

Summer Hours has no such cheat. It follows the last summer hours a family spends together -- three generations luxuriating on a quiet French estate ripe with the artistic heritage of a long-dead family member -- before the mother of three grown children passes on, and life moves with a force that is both gentle and insoluble to undermine one son's best laid plans to preserve the estate for the generation to come. At first I thought the family art itself might be a cheat, but I found it instead to be a kindness, for in the story of that art we see a modicum more actual preservation, in some form, of a life lived than most.

A film by director Olivier Assayas, Summer Hours went almost directly to the Criterion collection -- but don't watch it because of that. The film stars the ever-elegant Juliette Binoche as one of three siblings debating next steps after their mother's death (Charles Bering and Jereme Renier are others) -- but don't watch it because of that, either.

Rather, watch Summer Hours because you doubt a film can ever get past artifice to perform in the muted, underplayed way that real life often does. Watch it because you want a moment that feels genuine, and startlingly simple, too. Watch it because somewhere, sometime, you read or heard Pablo Picasso's statement, "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth," and you've always wondered how little of a lie could be got away with without sacrificing the art. Watch it, maybe, because death comes to us all; and the celebration of life, only to those who choose it. Please choose this exquisite little slice of life.

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