Interview - Olivier Assayas

Olivier Assayas

The French filmmaker talks to The List about his globalisation drama, Summer Hours.

‘To commemorate its 20th anniversary, the Musee D’Orsay museum in Paris had the idea of getting filmmakers from around the world to contribute to a collective film. The project fell through, but the ideas I had scribbled down inspired Summer Hours. I started in an abstract way with the notion that art comes from real life and your own lived experience and your relationship to nature. If it gets buried in a museum, something essential gets lost along the way.

Gradually, I realised that if you start to tell that story using flesh and blood characters, those issues are very dramatic and universal in their resonance.

‘When I was writing Summer Hours, I had no idea who would act in the film. Some of the actors I cast, such as Charles Berling, Dominique Reymond and Valerie Bonneton, I’d already worked with on my period drama Les Destinees Sentimentales. Juliette Binoche saw a copy of the screenplay and rang me up to say she wanted to be in the film, even though I thought the role of Adrienne was too small for her. When you give actors a collective story about a family, they bring in their own experiences about what it is to be a parent, a sibling, a son or a daughter. Juliette ended up reinventing Adrienne – she made her nastier than I had written that character. And Jérémie Renier is much younger than I imagined Adrienne’s brother Jérémie, which changed the chemistry of the family.

‘The film shows how globalisation is affecting our lives at the most essential level: our world is changing, our values are changing, and the way we relate to our past is changing. Yet, in dealing with these dramatic issues, I wanted to be as light as possible, to be close in spirit to the Impressionists. I didn’t want Summer Hours to be a loud film, but instead to be quiet and simple and straightforward. To me there’s very little dramaturgy to this story. It’s about moments and it’s as though fate is guiding events, with everything moving forward organically. The more you learn about the characters, the closer you become to their emotions, and you get involved in the issues in the same way they do. I could have made Summer Hours some sort of domestic shouting match, with lots of angry scenes. That’s been done before, though, many times. I tried to show people attempting to act decently, and hopefully that way viewers can relate to them and share their concerns.’

Summer Hours is on selected release from Fri 18 May. See review, page 45.

Summer Hours (L'Heure d'ete)

  • 4 stars
  • 2008
  • France
  • 1h 42min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Olivier Assayas
  • Written by: Olivier Assayas
  • Cast: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jérémie Renier, Kyle Eastwood

It's the 75th birthday of widowed matriarch Helene, and attending the celebrations are her three children, grandchildren and elderly housekeeper, who must decide collectively what to do with their artistic inheritance when Helene passes away soon after. Not tied down to a conventional three-act structure, the film's…

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