My summer hours, this year, are mostly filled with painting and walking by day…watching films by night; in fact, I seem to have got into the luxury of choosing a film to watch most evenings and, lately for some reason, the majority of these have been French.
I just finished one that kept catching my eye for a few weeks before I finally settled down to watch it and I liked it very much. Called ‘Summer Hours’ with Juliette Binoche, its about a rambling house once owned by a famous artist and stuffed to the gills with paintings and antiques which, due to the death of the one family member still living there, are dispersed; sold off, or traded off in lieu of inheritance tax.
We watch the family make the difficult decision to sell the house, with its rambling gardens and rose scented terrace, to enable them to get on with the new lives they have built in far distant places, then watch its lovingly documented contents scatter…some to (of all places) the very Musée D’Orsay that I wrote about recently, and so we are led through the observation that furnishings and objects that were once part of the family’s shared tapestry of experience have suddenly become sterile and, somehow, like prisoners in a cell. This point is made particularly well through the device of a pair of valuable vases, one of which is donated to the museum were it sits in a glass case and, the other, chosen as a retirement gift by the family’s elderly housekeeper who thinks of it as something quite ‘ordinary’ and modest to have taken away with her and who lives by the principle that an empty vase should always have flowers put in it.
There are so many more layers to the film than that and it was a thought provoking journey to be taken on as an artist who passionately equates art with home and hearth, sentiment and family yet it seems to be an inevitability of modern life that much of our art becomes tangled up in the idea of worth and collectability, the desire to show it off and, of course, to allow more than just a handful of people access to it. There are no grand conclusions I want to make about that…but it was a poignant thing to observe how, in the scattering of what were on one level ‘just possessions’, the whole dynamic of the family that once gathered around them was also broken up and dispersed in a way that felt tragically conclusive.
‘Summer Hours’ is currently available to rent online via Amazon Instant Video.
Interestingly, it seems Musée D’Orsay actually provided some of its antiques on loan for the film, even though the story isn’t exactly complimentary about the idea of items residing there as opposed to being cherished and used in private collections. You can read some of the background to this in a related post about Museum-Sponsored films.