4 Best Movies to Watch by Olivier Assayas

Staff & contributors

In this film-within-a-film, we and a fictional version of actress Maggie Cheung are brought through the disorienting experience of French filmmaking. The film’s washed-up director wants to remake the classic silent film Les Vampires to revive his career. But as with all plans, everything inevitably goes wrong. On top of depicting the regular chaos of a movie set, this film presents the anxieties of the modern-day French film industry—about how it may be past its prime, and how it can still compete on a global level. And through the steady, inscrutable face of Maggie Cheung, we remember the creative collaborations we've had ourselves—the energetic passion, the behind-the-scenes power dynamics, and the pure chaos of the process.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Descas, Antoine Basler, Arsinée Khanjian, Balthazar Clémenti, Bernard Nissile, Bulle Ogier, Dominique Faysse, Estelle Larrivaz, François-Renaud Labarthe, Françoise Clavel, Françoise Guglielmi, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Jacques Fieschi, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Laurent Jacquet, Lou Castel, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Nathalie Boutefeu, Nathalie Richard, Nicolas Giraudi, Olivier Torres, Philippe Landoulsi, Pierre Amzallag, Smaïl Mekki, Valerie Guy

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

Summer Hours centers on three siblings tasked with sorting the valuable pieces their mother left behind. Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, has different ideas about inheritance than his overseas siblings. Will their beloved house stay or go? Will the art? The furniture? Can they afford to keep all these for sentimental reasons or would it be wiser to sell them? They go back and forth on these questions, rarely agreeing but always keeping in mind the life these seemingly inanimate objects occupy, as well as the memories they evoke, which are beyond priceless.  

Summer Hours resists melodrama, opting instead for the simple power of restraint—of unspoken words and charged glances. And the result is a quietly affecting movie that basks in the details to paint a wonderful, overall picture of home and family.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Charles Berling, Dominique Reymond, Edith Scob, Émile Berling, Eric Elmosnino, Gilles Arbona, Isabelle Sadoyan, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Jérémie Renier, Juliette Binoche, Kyle Eastwood, Philippe Paimblanc, Sara Martins, Valérie Bonneton

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

The film for which Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win the César Award. The Twilight star turned indie prodigy plays next to another award favorite, Juliette Binoche, as her assistant. When rehearsing for the play that launched her career many years earlier, Binoche's character, Maria, blurs the line between fiction and reality, her old age and her assistant's young demeanor, and the romance story portrayed in the play and her own life. The movie itself is stylized as a play, adding another interesting layer of artistic creativity to the complex plot line. A film for film lovers.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aljoscha Stadelmann, Angela Winkler, Ben Posener, Benoit Peverelli, Brady Corbet, Caroline De Maigret, Chloë Grace Moretz, Claire Tran, Gilles Tschudi, Hanns Zischler, Jakob Köhn, Jerry Kwarteng, Johnny Flynn, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Luise Berndt, Nora von Waldstätten, Nora Waldstätten, Ricardia Bramley, Sean McDonagh, Steffen Mennekes, Stuart Manashil

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: R

This anthology of 18 short films — directed by the likes of the Coen brothers, Gurinder Chadha, Wes Craven, and Olivier Assayas — is a cinematic charcuterie board. Each director offers their own creative interpretation of one north star: love in Paris. Romantic love is heavily represented, naturally, but in diverse forms: love that’s run its course, dormant love in need of rekindling, electric chance encounters, and, apt given the location, honeymoon love. Segments like the one starring Juliette Binoche and Alfonso Cuarón’s five-minute-long continuous take opt to focus on parental love instead, with the former also exploring love through the frame of grief. 

If this all sounds a little syrupy and sentimental, fear not: there are dashes of bubble-bursting humor from the Coens, whose short stars a silent Steve Buscemi as a stereotypically Mona Lisa-obsessed American tourist who commits a grave faux pas in a metro station. Instead of sightseers, some directors offer more sober reflections on the experience of migrants in the city, which help ground the film so it doesn’t feel quite so indulgent. Still, the limited runtime of each vignette (sub-10 minutes) doesn’t let any one note linger too long, meaning the anthology feels like a series of light, short courses rather than a gorge of something sickly.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Alexander Payne, Axel Kiener, Barbet Schroeder, Ben Gazzara, Bob Hoskins, Bruno Podalydès, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Cyril Descours, Elijah Wood, Emily Mortimer, Fanny Ardant, Florence Muller, Gaspard Ulliel, Gena Rowlands, Gérard Depardieu, Hervé Pierre, Hippolyte Girardot, Javier Cámara, Joana Preiss, Julie Bataille, Julien Béramis, Juliette Binoche, Leila Bekhti, Leonor Watling, Lionel Dray, Ludivine Sagnier, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Margo Martindale, Marianne Faithfull, Miranda Richardson, Natalie Portman, Nick Nolte, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Putner, Rufus Sewell, Sara Martins, Sergio Castellitto, Steve Buscemi, Thomas Dumerchez, Wes Craven, Willem Dafoe, Yolande Moreau

Director: Alexander Payne, Alfonso Cuarón, Bruno Podalydès, Christopher Doyle, Daniela Thomas, Ethan Coen, Frédéric Auburtin, Gérard Depardieu, Gurinder Chadha, Gus Van Sant, Isabel Coixet, Joel Coen, Nobuhiro Suwa, Oliver Schmitz, Olivier Assayas, Richard LaGravenese, Sylvain Chomet, Tom Tykwer, Vincenzo Natali, Walter Salles, Wes Craven

Rating: R