At midnight Olivier Assayas was still going. Looking no worse for wear after a full day of press interviews and the premiere of his new film, Summer Hours, at the New York Film Festival, Assayas held court at a festival-hosted dinner, receiving well-wishers with shy smiles, deep nods, and indiscriminate eye contact. Long after other distinguished guests retired for the night, Assayas leaned forward and joined another conversation. Dressed in a distressed blazer and burnt-orange Adidas sneakers, the 53-year-old French filmmaker could pass for late thirties, his grey hair seemingly premature atop a boyish face. The director, who’s notoriously expansive in his interests and passions, weighed in on film, music, literature, criticism, and politics. Brain wheels spinning, he often doubled back on himself, restarting a sentence several times before proceeding with an extended string of thought. Talk of the news of the day—it was early fall and the depths of world financial crash was only just presenting itself—touched on questions at the heart of Summer Hours. How does one adapt—psychologically, emotionally, financially—to a swiftly changing world? . . . . .
. . . . . RS: It seems like cinema is almost best suited for approaching this in some ways, because it’s both literally making a record of something, making a memory, while simultaneously making an abstraction, a metaphorical representation. Throughout Summer Hours I was thinking of that scene in Les Destinées when Charles Berling watches Emmanuelle Beart picking fruit, and there’s this sense that this is time out of time, this isn’t necessary the narrative but something wonderful that is happening. There are many similar moments in Summer Hours, an appreciation of every moment whether or not the characters realize what’s happening.
OA: Of course, because cinema is involved with time. You can only represent time by using time. It’s what novels struggle with. Because they have so much space novels can deal in tiny details, but ultimately the emotions we have are visual emotions. We process thoughts and feelings as images. They echo within and stay with us. Cinema has a capacity of capturing those moments. Time is built into film, and you can somehow control the pace of time in a way that you can’t in a novel, because with novels your reader just reads a few pages, puts it back, and picks it up a week later. Cinema’s like a piece of music, it has its own rhythm, its own system of echoes which you control because you know more or less that your viewer is seated in the same theater—though DVDs become a problem because you don’t control what the guy does anymore—but basically the idea is that you can build on the echo of things in time. This film is entirely about that. The film has a billion subjects, but ultimately it has one subject, which is the passage of time. . . . . .