Featuring: Niels Arestrup, Patrick Chenais, Lorànt Deutsch, Nicolas Bridet, Anne Marivan, Valerie Mairesse, Jean-Marc Roulot, Urbain Cancellier
Director: Gilles Legrand
Writer: Gilles Legrand, Delphine de Vigan
Australian release date: November 1, 2012
Reviewer: rolanstein (one-word verdict: classy)
Widower Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), patriarch of a family-owned vineyard and wine-making estate in Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux), despairs at the idea of his son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) taking over. Martin is constantly diminished by his father, who ridicules him for his allegedly poor palate and relegates him to an administrative role, which he performs diligently and efficiently. When Paul’s head winemaker François (Patrick Chesnais) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, his son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) returns from the Napa Valley, where he is forging his own career in wine. Paul begins eyeing Philippe as his successor, and the dramatic tension escalates as the situation comes to a head.
Gotta rush this one. Pressed for time but wanted to get a review up, no matter how short or shoddy, to tip off you teeming hordes of Boomtown Rappers: You Will Be My Son is worth chasing down!
Gets all the dramatic fundamentals right! This is something of a rarity, and when it happens I rejoice. The dialogue is tight, the performances are excellent, the narrative works all the way through and there are no plot holes or logic flaws. The action mostly takes place via the dialogue, and the pacing is slow by Hollywood standards (just so ya know), but there’s drama aplenty here and it’s gripping stuff.
Add the beautifully filmed lush surrounds of the wine-producing region of Bordeaux and some tantalising glimpses into the lives of the winemaking elite as they go about the fascinating business – part art, part science – of tweaking the winemaking process to bring the very best out of the grapes, and this is a must-see for anyone with more than a passing interest in wine.
You can only watch on in wonder and envy as Paul surveys his expansive cellar and selects a dusty prized 30-year-old bottle of red, uncorks the magic at the table, pours with that unmistakable lethally seductive glug glug, inspects the legs and swirls the marvellous ruby-glowing elixir around in his glass, inhales the bouquet, masticates with eyes closed, and makes his expert pronouncements on the qualities within. O to know that all-consuming pleasure of the finely-tuned palate that separates the true connoisseur from the would-bes. And to have access to that cellar…or just one sip from one of the select bottles it harbours!
I declare, I feel like a red. I will have one. And it must be now. Whatsoever that says about me I don’t care.
Ah. Back. It ain’t one of Paul’s 1964 drops of divinity, but it ain’t bad for $10. I sure know how to lower the tone, oui? Cheers! Now where was I?
The very qualities that have served Paul so well as a winemaker work against him as a father and person. He’s made a life and earned national acclaim out of controlling the wine-making process, of questing after the ideal, of uncompromising perfectionism. Woe betide his poor son Martin, then, who falls far short of his father’s exacting expectations of him as a worthy successor and keeper of the ancestral wine-making flame.
Paul claims Martin has no feel for the grapes and the alchemy that transforms them into fine wine, no intuition. He dismisses Martin’s suggestions that they augment the traditional wine-making processes with some modern techniques, ridicules him for jogging while wired up with an MP3 player, volubly wishes he was “an aesthete, not an athlete”, and belittles him in dining company when he ventures his opinion on the qualities of the wine accompanying the meal.
There is more to Paul’s treatment of Martin than frustration. He is an emotional torturer, no less, who seems to thrive on his son’s torment. There are obvious Oedipal undertones, articulated quite literally at one point by terminally ill head winemaker François, who announces to his son Philippe that he is soon to die, that the son has killed the father, and that that is right, part of the natural order.
The contrast between François and Paul is stark indeed; Paul seems intent on destroying his son, rather than graciously making way for him. Further, there is a hint of Oedipal treachery in his attitude towards Martin’s wife, whom he appears to covet, flirtatiously appraising her perfume choices, undeterred by her obvious contempt for him. The control he has exerted to superb creative effect over the fermentation process he now subverts destructively in an attempt to realign the “natural order” according to his own design by reassigning the mantle of son and heir to Philippe. The gods don’t take kindly to that sort of arrogance and interference…
While the film works very well in most aspects, it is curiously lacking in emotional punch. I put this down to the lead characters, which are somewhat one-dimensional. Paul’s appalling treatment of Martin, for example, is unrelenting. He’s an out and out bastard with a rampaging ego, a sadist, a despot and control freak and not much else. Martin is a misery-guts who descends into deeper and deeper angst. Some light and shade might have fleshed out both characters, humanising them and enhancing the psychological and emotional realism of their interaction.
This criticism aside, You Will Be My Son works beautifully, sweetly harmonising form and content. It adheres to classic shape, bookended by a symmetry some might find too obvious and neat in its crafting, but which I found satisfying and right. Spoiler consciousness precludes me from elaborating, but you’ll know what I mean when/if you see it. Which I highly recommend you do.
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