Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France, 2008. MK2 Productions, France 3 Cinéma, Canal+, , , Région Ile-de-France, , Centre National de la Cinématographie, Screenplay by Olivier Assayas. Cinematography by Eric Gautier. Produced by Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanael Karmitz. Production Design by Fanny Stauff. Film Editing by Luc Barnier. Toronto International Film Festival 2008.
Olivier Assayas provides a modern, French answer to Howards End: instead of wondering who will inherit England, Assayas tells us who he believes has inherited France, and isn’t nearly as optimistic as E.M. Forster was in the telling. Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier are the children of Edith Scob (looking fabulous in all her legendary glory), owner of a beautiful country mansion and niece to a late, world-renowned painter whose legacy she has promoted for much of her adult life. With Scob’s passing comes the time to make decisions about her impressive art collection and the highly valuable mementos of the painter’s life, which engender interest from private collectors and museums alike. The three siblings decide the best thing would be to dispose of the house and collection and split the profits, as Berling is the only inheritor who will remain in France, while Binoche has her design career in the States and Renier runs a factory in China. The drama that plays out is brilliantly subtle–the dialogue and performances are beautifully natural—while the allegory is most definitely not. Assayas hammers us over the head with the lesson that sharp, charismatic French history has disintegrated into wan, American pop culture fetishism thanks to a lack of interest in the caretakers responsible for its survival. The film could be faulted for being so obvious, but it is executed far too well to sustain such criticism; outspoken nutjobs like Brigitte Bardot blame the loss of French character on the “invasion” of North African immigrants, so it’s great that an artist looks to lay the blame on a more likely, interior culprit.