It's Hélène's 75th birthday, occasion enough to bring together her far-flung children and grandchildren. It's also a proper time for her to discuss what from her estate will go where when the time comes. After all, this museum has had its eye on that desk for some time, and so on and so forth. Héléne (Edith Scob) doesn't really want to talk about it, but she must. Her oldest, Frédéric (Charles Berling), doesn't want to discuss it either, but he listens. Shortly thereafter, she passes away and Frédéric must determine, with his younger brother (Jérémie Renier) and sister, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), whether or not they're going to keep a house that none of them can care for. Besides that, what will they do with all the heirlooms within?
With Summer Hours, writer-director Olivier Assayas (Clean) gracefully navigates that tricky overlap between the sentimental value of the past, the practical factors of the present and the birthright considerations of the future, as a lovely house is steadily robbed of everything that once made it a home. However, such a stately pace suits to a fault Assayas' suggestion that time robs us of our most cherished places and possessions. So rarely do we get to glimpse Héléne's fragile pride, or Frédéric's and Adrienne's sudden grief, that the sheer banality of the proceedings ' appraisals! attorneys! ' threatens to rob those few poignant moments of their own dramatic value. It's the rare movie whose actual moments threaten to overwhelm the true ones.