A family returns home to celebrate the birthday of their aging mother. Their ancestral home is like a living museum, containing the works of her uncle, a celebrated painter, and of so many other important artists. Before long, she will be gone, and she knows that the treasures she had accumulated and preserved will no longer remain intact. It is a subtle story of a family, like all families, with things that are left unsaid but need to be spoken, with expectations that cannot possibly be fulfilled. It is told here by Oliver Assayas with a remarkably light touch, with a beautiful palette, a fluid camera and seamless edits. The acting is pitch-perfect throughout - it doesn't feel like acting.
I couldn't help but think of this as a lighter counterpoint to the more melancholy, but more playful and inventive, A Christmas Tale
by Arnaud Desplechin, whose sensibilities strike me as similar to those of Assayas - both films deal with similar issues of inheritance, of loss, of communication failures, and yet, while this film is less deliberately avant-garde than that one, it feels every bit as profound and yet more delicate, more subtle. In addition to displaying the changes in France over generations, the film reflects on larger questions. At what point do personal relics, a desk, a vase, a display case used as a kind of closet, become cultural artefacts? To whom can art belong? What is the connection between usage and display value of an artwork? What makes it art, after all?
I caught this during its theatrical release, but am very happy to hear it is being released by Criterion. The look is stunning and it would be a shame to see it released in a way that doesn't do justice to its imagery.
Here's what to expect on the Criterion disc:
-New high-definition digital transfer, supervised by director Olivier Assayas and approved by Assayas and cinematographer Eric Gautier (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
-New video interview with Assayas
-Making-of documentary featuring interviews with Assayas and actors Charles Berling and Juliette Binoche, and showing the cast and crew on set
-Inventory, an hour-long documentary by Olivier Gonard, shot partly in Paris's Musée d'Orsay, that examines the film's approach to art
-New and improved English subtitle translation
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones