This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Sometimes what holds a family together is custom and guilt. "Summer Hours" begins on the 75th birthday of Helene, a woman who is joined in the French countryside by her three children and their families. Much of the talk is about how far two of the children had to travel -- one from New York, the other from China -- and there's the sense they're eager to be going home. Sure, they love their mother. They really do. But you know how it is. They visit less because they should visit more.
Helene understands this. She understands a great deal. She pulls aside Frederic (Charles Berling), her only child still living in France, to talk about the handling of her estate. This makes him unhappy, but she produces an inventory of the sort women often keep, of her valued possessions. Tea sets, vases, paintings.
The house belonged to her uncle, a fairly well-known painter. She has kept it unchanged since his death, as almost a shrine. She has little of his work, but many of his valuable pieces, including a desk. In less than a year, she's dead, and the children gather again. She predicted to Frederic that the house would have to be sold -- indeed, she knew them all well enough to foresee everything -- but he assumes his sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and brother Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) will want to keep it in the family.
He is wrong. Adrienne is getting married to her New York boyfriend (Kyle Eastwood). Jeremie has been offered a promotion in Hong Kong. The film, which has no false sentimentality, is matter of fact about how the valuable works are disposed of. They're all sorry they couldn't keep and maintain the house, but, well ...