Tom Hanks, it’s been reported, has acquired the rights to “Summer Hours,” a French film originally released in 2008, in preparation for an American remake. No big news, as foreign film rights are routinely picked up in Hollywood in order to transform the genuine item into palatable domestic product. Often what remains in the refashioned film is merely the tantalizing plot device that lured Tinsel Town in the first place.
What then is the bait that “Summer Hours” dangles? A family drama that, in essence, centers on the sale of a home, art objects, and valuable furniture, the film features a plot as slender as a fresh baguette and decisive action as turbulent as the foam on a café au lait. Brothers and sisters talk rationally amongst themselves, a housekeeper cleans, museum officials ponder worth; decisive events — a prestigious retrospective, a death, an arrest — take place off-screen. That “Summer Hours” maintains interest, and remains vivid long after viewing is due to the understated work of its director and the contained strength of its ensemble cast. In other words, we are firmly in art-film country, where character trumps plot and a director’s delicate touch is where the gold can be found.
Assayas, working from his own script, presents a modern family fast falling apart — quietly and with civility intact, but, due to the corrosion of inevitable change, falling apart nonetheless. Though modest in vision, “Summer Hours” ultimately gets under your skin, leaving you pondering the poignant evanescence of traditions, cultural values, and family ties. For a film ostensibly about little, it ultimately reveals much.
Will a big-budget American version preserve such fragile virtues? Best of luck, Tom.