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This week brings Chicago's first chance to see Summer Hours, an incredibly rich drama about a trio of grown children (Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier) trying to decide what to do with their late mother's country home and its valuable furniture and art—her inheritance from a beloved uncle who made an international name for himself as a painter. Olivier Assayas, the French writer and director, is best known for his tales of sexy skullduggery (Irma Vep, Demonlover, Boarding Gate); there are just as many conflicts quietly percolating through Summer Hours, yet what makes the movie so fascinating is its attention to the business of valuing art, both monetarily and emotionally. The project began as a short commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Musee d'Orsay, and when the funding disappeared, Assayas applied what he'd learned about museum acquisition to a full-length drama. But this is no musty semidocumentary: as the siblings begin to negotiate the world of art musos, surprising details emerge about their mother's relationship with the uncle and their feelings toward her.
Summer Hours screens Saturday 3/28, 7:45 PM, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, as part of the European Union Film Festival; we have reviews of this and other selected features in this week's sidebar. When my lady and I went to the festival last Saturday to catch Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching, it had sold out 45 minutes earlier, so get yourself downtown early. Summer Hours screens only once more, on Tuesday 3/31 at 6 PM, though a commercial release seems likely.
Also this week: Critic's Choice boxes for Goodbye Solo, the latest drama from North Carolina indie Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop), and Nikita Mikhalkov's 12, which transposes Reginald Rose's classic TV drama Twelve Angry Men to the current conflict between Russia and Chechnya. Frederick Wiseman's 218-minute documentary State Legislature gets its local premiere at Chicago Filmmakers tonight at 7 PM. And we have new reviews of Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest Dreamworks animation, and Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary about fashion designer Valentino Garavani.