Saturday, December 19, 2009

Halfway House: Sell it to the Highest Bidder

Halfway through the day freeze a movie halfway through. What do we see?

I haven't done a bang up job keeping track of Olivier Assayas career. Quelle dommage. I had loved two of three films of his that I'd seen. Clean, about the misadventures of a recovering addict rock star (Maggie Cheung) did little for me but the diamond hard Demonlover and the layered Irma Vep (also with Cheung) both thrilled me. After numerous reader pleas, and the not so minor matter of those NYFCC and LAFCA foreign film prizes, I finally got around to L'heure d'été / Summer Hours (2009). It's three for four now.

51 minutes into Summer Hours, pragmatism triumphs over sentiment.

Halfway through this rich film, the three heirs to a family fortune decide to sell all of their newly departed mother's estate. It's largely composed of furniture, art and real estate. Their decision may make absolute real-life sense but -- Metaphor Alert! -- they're basically selling their childhood, their memories, and possibly France itself because they just can't be bothered with it... they're busy, OK!? Adrienne (the typically excellent Juliette Binoche) and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) both live and work abroad and are very much citizens of The (Global) Corporation rather than of France.

At times I worried that the screenplay was a little too on-the-nose about all of this larger meaning but as the film unspools, Assayas's direct candor about his actual subject matter becomes refreshing. As The Boyfriend said to me afterwards "Wow. How many films do you ever see about Cultural Patrimony?"

Not many.

This centerpiece scene ends with the camera tracking the wife of the eldest sibling who leaves the room to find her husband Frédèric (Charles Berling), who quietly excused himself earlier. She finds this eldest and most sentimental family son sitting in their dark bedroom, alone. We already know he's heartbroken: his memories, mother, and siblings are drifting ever further away. But Assayas's cooly intelligent and ineffably sad movie never allows itself to drown in simple sentiment.
Frédèric's Wife: Are you crying?
Frédèric: Don't be ridiculous
Fade out. *

8 comments:

ben said...

So sorry to be off topic, but when is your site coming back from "temporarily unavailable"? I am having Oscar prediction withdrawal.

Cleber P. Eldridge said...

temporarily unavailable, what's happening?

amir_uk said...

I wish I had a boyfriend who came up with such insightful thoughts after an evening's movie-watching...

NATHANIEL R said...

ben & cleber - that's what's known as "nathaniel can't afford that website" cuz too many people visit it and it aint free like a blog. I suppose i should give it up but it's just sentimental to me now... (sniffle)

amir - well he's also a francophile (big time) but don't be too jealous because he rarely watches movies with me. since it's french it got a thumbs up.

alexis said...

If you like his movies, be sure to seek out, fin août début septembre and L'eau froide. The latter being a hard find on DVD (region 2 PAL).

Arkaan said...

Gorgeous movie. I particularly loved the ending - exciting with a tinge of regret. And the way Assayas never trivialized the younger siblings for wanting different things. Still my favourite film of the year.

Rob Schneider, Oscar Winner said...

To add to Alexis'recommendation, another Assayas film you would absolutely love is Les Destinées Sentimentales. That one stars Béart AND Huppert as well as Charles Berling. It's a very elegant but also subtly subversive period drama.

Bonnie said...

Clean deserves a second chance! So good!