On their mother Hélène’s 75th birthday, her three grown children come to visit her in their old house on the outskirts of Paris, France. Frédéric is a professor of economics, Jérémie is the overseer of Puma sneaker’s expanding factories in China, and Adrienne is a fashion designer in New York City. While Hélène’s grandchildren play on the land surrounding the house looking for treasure Hélène has hidden, her children give her birthday presents. Jérémie gives Hélène a blanket for cold winter nights, Frédéric gives her a new phone for the house, and Adrienne gives her a book of Hélène’s uncle’s art.
Hélène asks Jérémie about his job at Puma and he explains how the development of China has helped create massive growth for Puma. He brags that it is the way of the future, but Adrienne interrupts and points out that this kind of behavior has been going on for centuries. She tells him that there is nothing noble about the rich using the poor to make money off of cheap goods.
Hélène, wanting to make arrangements before she passes away, pulls Frédéric aside and tells him that he must manage the estate since Jérémie will be in Chine and Adrienne will be in New York. The fact that Hélène is talking about her death as if it is imminent upsets Frédéric, but they dutifully go through most of Hélène’s belongings. Hélène tells Frédéric that since her Uncle died, she has preserved the house exactly as he left it. She suggests that when she dies, Frédéric and the others should sell most of the belongings and keep only a few things for themselves, since they will not want to be pressured by the remnants of another era. Frédéric is adamant that the house will be left as is, but Hélène shrugs him off.
Soon it is time for Jérémie and Frédéric to gather their families, which give Adrienne and her mother a moment to talk. The maid, Eloise, serves them tea and then goes off to scold the children for not going to lunch on time. Adrienne and Hélène talk about how much Adrienne loves a particular tea set, which she used as the basis for her final design in art school, which was received with much praise. Hélène tells her that while the will gives Adrienne the tea set, Hélène honestly doesn’t see Adrienne as the kind of person to use or even keep a tea set with such old history. Adrienne acknowledges this, but tells Hélène that old or new, beauty is beauty.
With all the children gathered up, the families begin to say goodbye to Hélène. On the way, Frédéric shows his children, Sylvie and Pierre, a pair of old paintings, which he greatly admired growing up. He tells them that one day they will belong to them and their cousins to do wish as they please. However, his children are not interested since they feel that it is something from a different era, which will not interest them in the years to come. The families gather around Hélène and tell her that they will all see her soon at her showcase in San Francisco in September. After that, Frédéric takes his family and Adrienne away from the house and Jérémie drives off to the airport.
Hélène is left alone to reflect on her day when Eloise comes in to talk. Hélène laments that her children are probably not going to be in France as much after she dies. With her children so career focused, they will probably not return to France once she is dead. Eloise asks Hélène if she would like some supper, but Hélène goes straight to bed.
One Year Later
Frédéric is at a discussion panel for his new book on the economy. He is constantly attacked by people who feel that the entire book undermines the basic principles of economics, but Frédéric pulls through the meeting and goes back to the office with his assistant. His assistant tells him that he did great and that several bookstores want to arrange signings, but Frédéric is too depressed to think about it. He ends up dropping her off at her house and heading in to the office alone.
When he arrives, an old villager from outside of France is waiting for Frédéric to offer his condolences. It is clear that Hélène has passed away. They go to a graveyard and the old man shows Frédéric where his mother will be buried. After they make all the arrangements, Frédéric drives away from the graveyard. After passing the corner, he stops the car and breaks down crying.
In New York City, Adrienne is reading her mother’s obituary in a French paper. Her boyfriend James is with her and comforts her as she complains about how the person who wrote the obituary used a line from Hélène’s diary, which Adrienne had always hated. She tells James that the line, while written like a prayer or wish always felt like a curse to Adrienne. James consoles her and drives her to the airport.
Hélène’s children are all in Frédéric’s apartment. Jérémie pours them all some wine and they reminisce about Hélène. After the art show, Hélène wore herself out, almost as if she had nothing to live for anymore. Adrienne then points out that she suspected that Hélène was in love with her famous Uncle, based on how she acted when she was with him and how Hélène acted after he died. Frédéric is disturbed by Adrienne’s comment since it implies that their mother had an incestuous relationship, and they argue for a bit until Jérémie laughs at them. Frédéric then presents them with his idea to preserve the house as it is so that their children can do what they wish with it. However, no one responds before dinner.
As they prepare for dinner, Jérémie makes it clear that he will be moving to China and will not be returning to France for at least five years. He tells Frédéric that his children, while they speak French, have been indoctrinated into American culture thanks to their peers at the international school. For Jérémie and his family, they have no real benefit from keeping the house. Adrienne tells them that since she is engaged to her boyfriend and firmly rooted in New York, the house is not really important to her anymore either. Frédéric is upset that his siblings want to sell the house and all the belongings, so he goes to bed and cries for a bit. His wife asks him about it, but he shrugs her off and goes to sleep.
At the reading of the will the family lawyer, Mr. Lambert, tells them that the only real issue between the siblings is that the French government will give them the maximum inheritance tax possible. He tells them that the best way to avoid this is to donate some pieces to the state. Several pieces come up in conversation but Frédéric tells Lambert who Hélène wanted to give the pieces to. Finally, Jérémie suggests selling the house and gives Mr. Lambert a card with a reputable realtor to contact. Frédéric is shocked that his brother was able to arrange things so soon after suggesting selling.
After the meeting, Frédéric and Jérémie go out for a drink. They discuss the situation and Frédéric makes it clear that while he is disappointed, he is not upset with his brother. He laments about the Corot paintings and the conversation quickly turns to their dead father. Frédéric does not look kindly upon their father, but Jérémie points out that their father was smothered by Hélène’s obsession with her uncle. In the end, he paid the bills and didn’t talk since he felt inferior to Hélène. Frédéric acknowledges that it was true and the brothers part ways.
Frédéric and Adrienne bring buyers to the property and show them around the house to catalog the pieces and appraise them. An old villager who knew Hélène talks with Frédéric and confirms that Hélène was in love with her own Uncle. Since it was complicated and the children were young, it was never spoken of. Frédéric is shocked by this information but decides it’s not worth following up on.
Eloise arrives at the house with her nephew and brings some flowers. She puts them in an old vase until Frédéric sees her place them on an antique desk. He greets her and she mentions how depressing it is to see such change in Hélène’s old house. He apologizes for selling the house and tells her that it was not his decision, but his siblings’. He tells her to take whatever she wants from the house as a parting gift for her years of faithful service. She takes a plan looking flower jar to remind herself of Hélène and walks off with her nephew. Frédéric gets a phone call and rushes off.
Frédéric arrives at a police station to find out that his daughter, Sylvie, was arrested for shoplifting and that the cop found 3 grams of pot on her. The cop decides not to charge her for the three grams but tells Frédéric that when stuff like this happens, it tends to progress to more serious issues such as crack and drug dealing. Frédéric is upset but takes Sylvie away. He gives Sylvie a stern talking to and asks her how she was stupid enough to get caught. She gets defensive but when Frédéric asks if she stole because of a boy, she doesn’t confirm or deny it. Finally, Frédéric pries the truth out of her and finds out that she has been fooling around with a boy.
When they arrive at their house, Sylvie slams the door, which causes Frédéric to scream at her. He goes to the kitchen for a beer and sees Pierre working on some homework. He tells Frédéric that he knows about Sylvie and that he had to flush “a lot of weed” down the toilet when one of Sylvie’s friends called. Afraid of a search of the house, Pierre did what he could to protect Sylvie and Frédéric. He reminds Frédéric that Frédéric missed a meeting about the sale of the pieces. Frédéric calls Mr. Lambert to find out how it went.
Several weeks later.
A group of tourists walk around a museum and see several pieces from the house are on display. Frédéric and his wife look at the antique table and Frédéric says that it’s strange to see it in the museum but that it’s nicely displayed. Frédéric asks if they feel caged, but his wife tells him that it is benefiting people who visit. He sees a plan vase similar to the one he gave Eloise. It was worth more than he thought, but he laughs about the fact he gave it to her. The only thing he regrets selling are the Corot paintings. His wife tells him to forget about it. They decide to use the house one last time in order to have a party for the children. They laugh over the situation.
Eloise goes to the house and walks around the bare walls. Almost everything is gone except for a few things here and there. She can’t go inside, but she looks through the windows and looks in. She goes to Hélène’s grave and leaves her flowers. Her nephew leaves her at her house and tells her that his wife and he will be traveling through Spain that summer, but that she should call. He hugs her and drives off.
Pierre and Sylvie throw a large party with all their friends at Hélène’s old house. Soon the house will belong to new owners, so Frédéric decided to let his children do what they want with it. Drinking, smoking and dancing all the teens seem to have a very good time. Sylvie goes looking for her boyfriend, Richard, and they go into the woods and find Hélène’s favorite cherry tree. Sylvie tells Richard that Hélène used to bring her hear and tells her that she would bring her own children there one day. She laments Hélène’s death and the fact that Frédéric sold the house. Richard hugs her for a little until someone calls Sylvie’s name. The couple hops the fence and run off into the woods.
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