Summer Hours

[#48 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.]

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.”

“Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder and a big sob gathering, gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. … Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings, he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him…”
. . . . .

Summer Hours, The Decline and Fall of the French Bourgeoisie, Three Generations. Olivier Assayas’ absorbing and poignant film is first an observation of life’s fleeting moments (one might say it’s more observant than the characters who experience these moments, without really appreciating them). It is also a wailing elegy to a France crumbling away in the globalized world, letting its culture and its people dribble from its borders like sand from a smashed hourglass. And finally the movie is a portrait of one family, three generations (old, middle-aged, young) and three siblings in that middle group (brother, sister, brother), who slowly and willingly lose their country home, and with it their fragile communal identity. These two triumvirates, the generations and siblings, are each anchored in the center – chronological in the case of the age group (those in the middle of their life dominate the running time of the film), geographic in the case of the brothers and sisters (the deceased matriarch’s eldest son lives in France and tries to hold the family together, while his sister flees west to New York, and his little brother flees east to China). Alas, as is so often the case, the center does not hold.

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