When I die, I'm drafting a will, no doubt about it. It's easier for everyone to have absolutely no say in the dividing of the estate. You hear about it all the time. Brothers and sisters fight over possessions for sentimental or financial reasons, or whatever. If you care about your family (and if you're smart), you will draft a will.
But as Hélène (Edith Scob) puts it, there's very little reason to care about what happens after you die when you're dead.
Summer Hours, from writer and director Olivier Assayas (Late August, Early September), tells the story of how three siblings decide to divide their deceased mother's (Hélène) valuable estate and the family collection.
The film opens with Hélène's 75th birthday party. Hélène's three children - Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), Frédéric (Charles Berling), and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) - her two daughters-in-law, and her many grandchildren gather at her house (which she inherited from her famously artistic uncle) for what will be the last time.
There should be much to celebrate. It's Hélène's birthday. Her children, with their families and their busy lives, are all under one roof for the first time in a long time. There's life again in the house in which Hélène spends her time mostly alone with just the longtime cook and housekeeper Éloïse (Isabelle Sadoyan), but that joy is fleeting. Hélène knows this all too well, even choosing to quickly discuss with her eldest son Frédéric what to do with her possessions when she dies.
Since Frédéric is the only one who still lives in France (Adrienne lives in New York, while Jérémie and his family live in China), it would make the most sense for him to deal with the handling of the estate. Frédéric scoffs at the notion of his mother dying anytime soon and tries to reassure her that the house will be kept in the family for her grandchildren to decide. But Hélène is wise and makes sure that he knows what should happen to the most valuable (and her most beloved) items.
I think the most poignant scenes are with Éloïse, which show how she exists in relation to Hélène and the house. Frédéric makes sure Éloïse is taken care of, ensuring she gets what money Hélène left her, allowing her to keep an item from house before everything is gone, and confirming that she has some place to stay (with relatives, he's told). But the siblings only know of Éloïse as part of the house, and once it's sold they think less about her because they recognize little about her devotion to the family and what the family meant to her. There's an incredibly touching scene of Éloïse surveying the empty house, only from the outside since she no longer has a key.