Release Date: Aug 16, 2013 (USA); Aug 24, 2011 (France)
With: Niels Arestrup, Lorànt Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Nicolas Bridet
Distributor: Universal Pictures France
What makes a good wine?
Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son seems to beg that question, as famed French winemaker Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) tries to plan his own legacy at the vineyard his family has owned for centuries.
It also suggests more than one answer. On the one hand, great wine could come from someone like Phillipe Armelot—the strapping son of de Marseul’s longtime and under-appreciated steward François, with a nose for notes, an eye for grape picking, and experience as head winemaker for Francis Ford Coppola in California. On the other, it could come from Marseul’s son, who is well cultivated like ancient terroir and the grapes that come off it.
By the end, you’ll be more than tired of the grotesque sucking and spitting requisite of esteemed winemakers. Paul never goes anywhere—not even the hospital—without a bottle for swilling.
But de Marseul never loved his son Martin—whom he conceives as a stuttering weakling with no considerable aptitude in tasting wine, though he studied winemaking at his university. And Martin’s sour grapes are the first of many not-so-subtle wine imageries to pollute Legrand’s script.
As François becomes weaker with pancreatic cancer, Paul decides Phillippe (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Macklemore) should replace him as head winemaker at the Bordeaux vineyard, going so far as trying to install him as his adopted son, as if to justify overlooking Martin, his only child.
This disregard for blood relations, plus the hilariously macabre recounting of Paul’s father’s drowning death in a vat of 1963 vintage (a bad year), instills some heavy-handed wine-as-blood metaphors. And with a French obsession with death, the film employs multiple scenes dedicated to dying and ashes—including a very Chocolat (2000) moment when ash is scattered over the harvest.
But while the writing can be unsubtle, the cast gives honest, nuanced performances—especially miserable Martin and the passive aggressively cruel Paul, who’s reminiscent of Craster from Game of Thrones in more than one way.
This mixed with the moody sumptuousness of pedigreed country living in France’s wine country makes the film considerably easier to watch.
And there’s lots and lots of wine tasting. By the end, you’ll be more than tired of the grotesque sucking and spitting requisite of esteemed winemakers, and Paul never goes anywhere—not even the hospital—without a bottle for swilling.
And no matter what conclusion Legrand draws about what makes a good wine, you’ll undoubtedly be inspired to buy a good bottle.