“Summer Hours” tries really hard to be better, but just can’t seem to help being another European arthouse flick about nothing.
It has some nice moments. A grown family gathers at their mother’s place, a beautiful French villa absolutely chocked with valuable art pieces. She was the caretaker, and possibly the mistress, of an important French painter. They barely remember him, but they remember the garden, the swimming hole, the dinners and parties and warm summer nights.
The mother dies, and now the grown children (Charles Berling, Jeramie Renier, and Juliette Binoche, who can’t seem to stop making artsy flicks about nothing — see last year’s “The Flight of the Red Balloon–) must decide what to do with the estate and the wonderful treasures it holds. For moments, though they are scattered, “Summer Hours” feels like Anton Chekov’s immortal play, “The Cherry Orchard” — the sadness, the beauty, the nostalgia — but for some unfathomable reason, it repeatedly gets bogged down in mundane details about estate taxes, and auction houses, and museum curators. In addition, it gets way too caught up in what can only be called art history porn – salivating over the pieces in the house, this vase found in a closet by so-and-so, who only made so many, that mid-period sketch by thus-and-such, marking his transition from blah blah blah….
None of this matters to me, though I’m not a complete ignoramus about French art and artists. None of the tax and inheritance stuff matters to me either. What matters is the family, they way they change, negotiate the change, and both preserve and abandon their history. I would guess about 20 minutes of “Summer Hours” is devoted to what matters. A pity.