Tuesday, September 09, 2008

L' Heure d'été (Summer Hours)

L' Heure d'été opens with an extended family visiting their mother Hélène (Edith Scob), niece of a famous painter who has maintained and nurtured his legacy and his house in the country. Sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), younger brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), and elder brother Frédéric (Charles Berling) have already started to drift apart, with Adrienne a designer in New York, Jérémie working for a shoe company in China, and Frédéric busy with his academic career in Paris. They part after the weekend, but within a year are thrown back together and must examine their familial ties to their mother, each other, and their shared family past.

L' Heure d'été struck me as a more observational film, meditating on what we leave behind and what connects us to our past. Frédéric, being the eldest, is concerned about maintaining the family legacy for the next generation, but the other two sibilings are more concerned about forging ahead with their own lives. Compared to another French family-centred drama I watched the same day, I thought L' Heure d'été revealed less of its characters' inner thoughts and feelings, with Frédéric being the possible exception, but it was still an interesting look at those themes of family ties. This film definitely had a different, more initimate feel from the last feature of director Olivier Assayas that I saw (Clean, back at the festival in 2004).

Director Olivier Assayas did a Q&A after the screening (minor spoilers below):

  • It was a more initimate movie, shot on a small budget, with friends for both the cast and the crew.
  • They all had a lot of freedom to invent the film as they made it, but it wasn't necessarily all improvised on the fly.
  • When making a film, you deal with many things, including abstract ideas, but you are basically dealing with human beings with emotions, so you write a story and try to express it through your actors, and the reality of their own emotions.
  • In film, the whole thing is about getting those emotions right, about helping your actors give a sense of reality to what is going on.
  • The film is about the passing of time, but it is also about trying to understand how time passes from the point-of-view of different generations, from the older generation to the younger generation.
  • On Juliette Binoche's blonde hair in the movie: Assayas joked that he fought as much he could to keep her brunette, but Binoche had been working on different movies at the time, and Assayas recognizes that switching between roles can be challenging for actors sometimes, and that they grab on to something to hold on to the character. In this case for Binoche, it was the blonde hair.
  • On whether Assayas is an art buff because of the number of references to art and artists in the movie: he put the film into this art world background because at issue is what we pass on to the next generation. In this case, because art is more valuable, it lends more drama to what is going on, but Assayas figures he could have told the story with a fridge and a cupboard.
  • The movie contains autobiographical themes for Assayas, as at the time he was writing the screenplay, he got to understand that his own mother wouldn't be there forever, and she died right after the screenplay had been completed. It's not his family in the film, however, he doesn't have that type of relationship with his own siblings. The film does deal with emotions that are close to home, and that helps with the relationship with the actors, as they know that you are right there with them.
  • The Musée d'Orsay was generous with access to the various pieces of art, furniture, and sculpture in the film. The film was initially supposed to be part of a series of shorts honoring the museum's 20th anniversary. The museum is dedicated to late 19th century and early 20th century art.
  • Assayas was asked to do a short, but in the process, realized it was turning into a feature. But the whole project actually fell apart, so the script was shelved
  • Le Voyage du ballon rouge by Hsiao-hsien Hou (which also starred Juliette Binoche and was at the festival last year - http://tifftalk.blogspot.com/2007/09/le-voyage-du-ballon-rouge.html) was in a similar situation.
  • At some point Assayas and his producer went back to the museum and told them that were proceeding with the film as a feature and asked if they would assist, and they agreed since they were frustrated they couldn't get their 20th anniversary project going. The museum didn't provide a financing, but they did provide advice and access to many works.
  • The museum was ok with use of the desk in the film, but they were quite nervous about the cupboard. They kept the key to it and only gave it up when they actually had to shoot actors opening it up.
  • The Degas plaster was a copy created for the film, and it's unlikely the family in the film actually would have had it considering how rare they are, but Assayas loves Degas and wanted to have it in the film.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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