Now playing at Sundance Cinemas: ‘Summer Hours’

So, it looks as though it’s actually possible for one of the year’s best-regarded contemporary European films to play in Madison: Olivier Assayas’s latest, L’heure d’été (Summer Hours) opens today at the Sundance Cinemas on N. Midvale. While I can’t recommend it with any sort of immediacy to those of you who haven’t yet seen the cinematic elephant in the room (begins with an I, ends with a Basterds), I will say that it’s well-composed, extremely agreeable and at times genuinely touching. Summer Hours is by no means a manifestation of the Kino-Fist, nor is it a descendant/zombie of cinematic modernism; its intentions are straightforward and its swagger suggests a cinema before alienation techniques and deconstructive gestures (not that such a cinema ever truly existed, but it’s nice to think so, isn’t it?).

One of my roommates said something about fictional cinema the other day that I found very interesting. I was explaining (poorly) the self-effacing, non-narrative approach to storytelling taken by Alains Resnais and Robbe-Grillet in Last Year at Marienbad (which will be playing at the Cinematheque on December 11th), and he mentioned that he tends to disregard plot for the most part, instead devoting his attention to the way that a film develops its characters. Now, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that, strictly speaking, character development and plot development are two faces of the same beast; but his statement made me wonder whether there are films which subordinate narrative progression in favor of constructing a more complete portrait of the characters who endure the chain of events that constitutes the plot.

If ever there were such a film, it’s Summer Hours, whose dramatic ambitions are overly familiar, slightly melodramatic and more than a little bit predictable. Yet, these qualities don’t diminish the film’s effectiveness: instead, I came to know the film’s trio of protagonists all too well, to the point that when the film concluded in the best long take I’ve seen all year, I felt sort of like I’d been forced to part ways with some old friends without being able to say “adios” to them properly. The psychology of Summer Hours isn’t concerned with the perverse, the fetishistic, the neurotic or the hysteric; instead, the film attempts, rather metaphysically, to assemble a precise  image of restrained mourning, of modest disappointment, of losing something that had always been there. The concluding long take expresses it better than I can: You can’t go home again because there’s always a next generation to whom Home truly belongs and everyone else is comfortably lost.

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One Response to “Now playing at Sundance Cinemas: ‘Summer Hours’”

  1. outPost Says:

    […] CineMadison | Now playing at Sundance "It looks as though it's actually possible for one of the year's best-regarded contemporary European films to play in Madison" […]

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