The French just seem to get it right every time. I know, I know, I sound very biased in favouring their work over other nations, but in all seriousness I have yet to watch a film native to France and be completely repulsed by it.
Writer/director Olivier Assayas created a beautiful film in his 2008 project, L’Heure d’été. The film stars Juliette Binoche (The English Patient and Chocolat), Charles Berling, and Jérémie Rénier, as siblings who are confronted with the ordeal of handling their mother’s estate once she has passed. It is a strong character piece that concentrates on the motifs of life, death, love, loneliness and isolation, as well as community and family. It is an honest and authentic depiction of what a family must deal with once both parents have passed. There are disagreements on what to do with the mother’s estate and possessions, and there are difficulties dealing with severing the attachment to certain pieces strewn throughout the enchanting villa. The house is filled to the brim with antique furniture and pricey collector pieces that the Musée d’Orsay is very interested in, and once the family has decided on the fate of everything they move on with their lives and attempt to not dwell on the enduring memories carved throughout the house.
What Olivier Assayas does is reveal the worth of objects, which is essentially nothing. This is evident at the end of the film when one of the brothers, Frédéric, visits the museum with his wife and looks at one of his mother’s antique desks on display. People glance at it, not really taking in its beauty and worth, then proceed onto the next piece of art. He then sees one of his mother’s vases in a glass case and comments on how lifeless it is, saying that it had a purpose when flowers were immersed in it. In a museum we witness the reality of all our personal possessions and their fate once we pass. They are essentially meaningless to everyone minus those who have sentimental attachment. What really lives on are the memories, not the tangible artifacts. This is also evident at the beginning of the film when Frédéric is talking with the housekeeper and says that the home is so alive, to which she replies only when you are all here, which is only twice a year. The notion of isolation is prominent as the mother is all alone once her children and grandchildren part, and this is what I deem to be the saddest reality illustrated in the film.
The films concludes with Frédéric’s daughter and son inviting all their friends to their grandmother’s now sold estate to have an end of summer party before the new owners move in. His daughter finally reflects on the value of her childhood vacation spot with her family, remembering how she and her grandmother would pick fruit together when she was a little girl. The audience is left with an ambiguous ending, as she and her boyfriend walk away in the vast and unkept field. This leaves one to inquire the value of life, material possessions, and memories, instigating you to question what would you want your family to do with your belongings once you pass.
Does it really matter? Oui ou non?