Family Matters

Movies are collections of constantly changing images, and so are families. Two recent films at the Detroit Film Theatre took advantage of this rich source of cinema.

The 2008 French film Summer Hours, which screened at the DFT on July 23, 2016, explored the effects of a woman’s death on her children, grandchildren, and extended family in the French world of art.

The 2014 Bulgarian drama Viktoria, which I saw at the DFT on July 24, 2016, examined the lives of three generations of women in the same family during a tumultuous period in Bulgarian history.

The two films combined to take you through the cycle of life. Viktoria focused mainly on the birth and young life of the title character, while Summer Hours dealt with life’s end.

In both movies, a woman who was a mother and grandmother to the next generations attempted to maintain some influence on her offspring. She watched her influence slowly fade before she finally died.

Viktoria

Viktoria

The middle generations in each movie struggled to strike a balance between their roles as family members and their desire to assert themselves as independent adults.

In Summer Hours, the three adult children (who included Juliette Binoche) tried to distribute the art that was collected by their mother. Their personal feelings about the art changed when the time came to donate it to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

In Viktoria, the mother of the title character, Boryana, struggled through what looked like a serious depression to come to terms with her mother’s preference for political work. Boryana also had to learn to accept Viktoria, who was born without a belly button and became a national symbol of Bulgaria’s changing political scene.

Both films included moments of powerful stillness where characters made sudden new emotional connections with other family members.

Near the end of Summer Hours, in the middle of a carefree teenage party at the now empty house of the grandmother, one of her granddaughters suddenly realizes how much she missed her grandmother.

A closing scene in Viktoria showed Viktoria and her mother preparing the grandmother for burial. I’m sure that this uncomfortable, emotionally draining scene left permanent impressions on Viktoria and her mother.

Summer Hours

Summer Hours

With all the current news from Europe, it was interesting to see two vastly different images of that continent.

Viktoria began in the late 1970s and showed life under Communism, followed by the emergence of democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of the family scenes in Viktoria took place in small, simply furnished apartments.

By contrast, many of the family scenes in Summer Hours were set in one of those beautiful country mansions that are common in films about the French upper middle class. The world of Summer Hours was the product of a more politically and economically free culture than what has existed in Bulgaria in the last 50 years.

Summer Hours was part of a series of movies about museums and art that is in conjunction with the DIA exhibition of the on-loan painting Gallery of the Louvre, by Samuel F.B. Morse (Museum Pieces).

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Copyright © 2016 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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