She has continually brought to her roles intense dedication, as well as a methodical approach to neuroses that can toggle between effortless and effortful; some can find her showmanship off-putting, while some of us are captivated in a purely pleasurable way.
Summer Hours is a film about the inevitability of movement—of time, of people, of industry—yet also the ways in which human nature strives to avoid long-term variation; how we try to smuggle poignancy into a seemingly inhospitable economic landscape.
Binoche expresses such a range of emotions that we cannot be sure what her endgame is. She won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her role, an honor that recognizes her ability to captivate an audience even in a performance that keeps shifting and changing registers before our eyes.
Even as archetypical “Anne” in Code Unknown, one of her least adorned performances, the tension of those supposed contradictions––generosity and narcissism, tidal emotion and awareness that she’s being watched––is both what animates her scenes and what gives them a critical edge.
The movie calls on her to disrupt its stillness and austerity, to whirl in with frantic phrases and abrupt movements. She is that frazzle of golden hair, the rush of light bursting in that also brings chaos to order. The balloon floats, but she crashes in.
Denis is hardly ever literal, but she does present a sobering vision of maternity as a prison, as “being caught,” subjugated. In this sense, Dibs wielding her power—what she calls her “total devotion to reproduction”—is also a slavish act of treason. She is a victim, and yet she becomes a tool and perpetrator.
Instead of tracing the more settled trajectory of the film—a gradual fall from grace to match the early passage from unfettered youth to straitened middle age—it seems more apropos to focus on his ecstatic cinematic orchestrations, which are, not to put too fine a point on it, the main attraction.