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Monday, October 24, 2011


        by paul berthier

Again, I believe it can be said I've seen another perfect film, Summer Hours, written and directed by Olivier Assayas, French, sub-titles. It's a film of feeling. It makes you feel. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, a range of feelings that make associations with your own feelings and activate them. I found myself feeling this story as much as mentally following the clues of what's happening. While there is very little going on, like in a Patrick White novel, a great deal of feeling is bubbling below the surface. A mother, her daughter and two sons, the wives of the sons and their kids in their teens. A sophisticated Parisian upper middle class family, people aware of their cultural heritage, mother in old age concerned about the fate of the house and the "museum quality" pieces of furniture, the art on the walls, Redon and Corot perhaps the most valuable. Her 3 offspring are not in positions with work and family to be able to keep the house after mama dies. The house is mother's fantasy treasure box of the past, particularly focused on her uncle, who doubled as lover in her youth, the French artist Paul Berthier.

The family was gathered from the different places they live to visit mother on her birthday, which they did every year. Mother talked almost obsessively about values of particular works of art and furniture, Uncle Paul's paintings and sketchbooks. Certain objects the Musee was interested in having, and she noted which they were. Her daughter, Juliette Binoche, is living in New York, and brought mother for her birthday the recently published copy of the book she put together on Paul Berthier. This was mother's labor of love, as she had a hand in the creation of the book. The publication of the book seemed to close a chapter door for mother. Her satisfaction was such that the purpose in her life had been fulfilled. She died not long after the first gathering of family on her birthday.

The next gathering of family is over mother's funeral and the distribution of objects and money. They were sensible, not greedy people with attitudes of fairness toward one another. It wasn't a drama of jealousy and envy, fighting over things. They didn't do that. The relationships between the three were of respect and genuine appreciation of each other. They're three intelligent people who see themselves drifting away from each other with regret, the sister in New York and probably not coming back to France more than once a year. One of the boys has a long-term job in China with a shoe factory and won't be able to commute. The one in Paris was left to himself, selling the house and taking care of the museum acquisitions, lawyers etc. He didn't really like it, but he understood the circumstances simply worked out this way.

Turning away from the past is what every one of them was doing in each one's particular way. Turning the furniture and art over to the museum for the tax write-off toward inheritance tax was the key. It was difficult for them having mother's things carried away to be sold at auction. The three heirs agreed on distribution of what they bring over time. The teenage next generation come more and more into the picture as the past was taken away, piece by piece, to museums and to be sold. The house becoming an empty shell, scene by scene, struck me as the theme of the story. The three of the heirs had family memories of the house, it was home, but their lives had become such that it was only practical to get rid of everything, keeping a few things of their choosing. The French teenagers come and go talking on cell phones, dressed like American teenagers, listening to rap, the endless party, out of their parent's control. The culture of the teens was as different from their parent's culture as the parents were from their mother's culture, and on back to her uncle's culture. The grandchildren and the grandmother were as different as they are here in the mountains where grandpa might drive a tractor and a pickup and grandson watches tv and plays video games.

It's the same issue we deal with in the mountains after all the changes of the 20th Century. Grandpa wears "overhauls" and watches the Andy Griffith Show. Grandkid dresses like an urban rapper, hat backwards, listening to rap, posturing like gangstas in LA (on tv). Grandpa is a Bible studying old-time Baptist, and morality is important to him. The grandkid only goes to church when his parents make him go. He'd rather play Metalica on electric guitar with headphones in his bedroom. Hi grandpa. Bye grandpa. Love ya grandpa. The very same story happening from generation to generation among the Parisian well to do as here at home. This story evidently applies all around the globe. Released in 2008. Chinese films and fiction use the theme quite a lot. It is a major issue in this time when the flood of pop culture has swept away any connection to the past, a Dada moment, the chopping block, the end of the world as we know it. This beautiful film illustrates the transition from the end of the world as we know it to what comes next. No judgments. It tells the story like it happens, one flows into the other incomprehensibly and it keeps on going.


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