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SUMMER HOURS
2008 - Olivier Assayas
France
21
Opening Shot

A film that deals with art, artists and of course family generations it is expressively fitting that Summer Hours opens (cued by the off-screen sounds of kids) to a painting-like shot of children and teens running playfully through the woods as they play a game of scavenger hunt.

The Film

Perfection! Fresh off the globalized B-movie genre film Boarding Gate (an extraordinary achievement of its own), Olivier Assayas would seem a strange fit for this simplistic three generations family ensemble. Yet Summer Hours is very much the definitive Assayas film and it may very well be his greatest masterwork. In many ways it might be his greatest film because it seems to be a reflection on all of his films and it is made with the touch of a seasoned master with its skillfully simplistic touch, channeling the minimalist style of his influences (notably Hou Hsiao-Hsien, whom Assayas made a documentary about in 1997). Like Hou, Summer Hours finds an eternal truth through its simplicity, but the beauty is that the film is undoubtedly Assayas' from the opening frame right through to its counter in lovely final shot (itself structured like a cinematic painting) which leaves a sense of great understanding and hope even in the saddest and most reflective of moments. Surprisingly recalling some of his previous film, Assayas here presents us with the global family as a reflection of a passing time. Summer Hours is a film about life and death, memories and heritage. The film understands not only the family dynamics but humanity as a whole, particularly through family generations. There is a truth and hope to the film in the way it presents humanity. I can't say I saw a film more perfect then this in 2008 and I would rate Summer Hours among the greatest French films in years or really among the greatest films I have ever seen!!

The Filmmaker

Like the great filmmakers of the French New Wave Movement (who were part of the Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s and 60s), Olivier Assayas began as a film critic. If the general feeling is that French cinema is dying, Assayas can change that perception. His debut feature was 1986's Disorder, and over the course of the 1990s and into the 21st Century, Assayas has established himself as a wonderfully gifted filmmaker. Many of his films vary, but he generally makes contemporary films and always seems to be strictly detailed in his research and approach. Assayas' style often feels very improvised and high paced as most of his work is with hand-held cameras. He is brilliant with using sound (notably offscreen) and has a gifted ability at capturing an atmospheric or emotional mood of disconnected youth (flawlessly captured in his 1994 film Cold Water). Assayas has seemed to become more known to American audiences with his last two features (Clean and Demonlover), but it is particularly his achievements in the 1990s that make him one of the most important filmmakers of French cinema today. His ascension into a master filmmaker may have come with his brilliant 2008 films Boarding Gate and Summer Hours - two films with extreme genre differences yet seasoned with the signature touch of it's auteur, Assayas has become one of the worlds leading contemporary masters.

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Resources
trailer (youtube)      
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