I am of the opinion that Juliette Binoche is simply the greatest actress working today. No one else disappears into a character as completely as she does—nor to such mesmerizing effect. Of course, most of her appearances are in art-house and foreign pictures, so most Americans probably aren't too familiar with her body of work, but if you asked me to pick one quintessential Binoche film, I'd be sorely tempted to choose Summer Hours. Not because it's her best role, necessarily—it's fine work, but she's essentially a supporting character, ceding most of the screen time to a pair of other actors—but, in an odd and serendipitous way, it contains echoes of so many other great Binoche movies: The haunted, grieving quality of Three Colors: Blue, the meditative and occasionally whimsical tone of Flight of the Red Balloon, and even the spirited celebration of family a la Dan in Real Life.
But of course, this isn't really her movie at all; it belongs, more than anyone, to director Olivier Assayas, a name that is as well-known to world cinema lovers as it is unknown to typical multiplex-goers. And there's never been a better time to expand your horizons and introduce yourself to the famed auteur's work: Summer Hours is a beautiful and profound movie that's haunting and human, elliptical yet entirely compelling.
I know what you're probably thinking right now, and the answer is a qualified yes: It is a French art film, which means that it is very talky, light on "action," and somewhat cerebral. It requires patience and close attention. Such a viewer will be surprised and delighted by this heartfelt and human work, rich in compassion and subtle humor. And while its story may be simple, it's also efficient in its narrative ...1