Giles Legrand’s tale of a severe and self-absorbed vintner of national esteem is a fantastic familial drama. It borders on Shakespearean as the story twists into its darker bends, but the subject of failed expectation and the theme of how one might become the architect of the life they want is personal and well contained.
You Will Be My Son focuses on Paul Marseul (Niels Arestrup) and the strained relationship with his somewhat weak willed son Martin (Lorant Deutsch), who works with him on their family estate. Paul’s passion for wine is profound and profuse. This suffusion of wine loving/discussing/dissecting/tasting/obsessing is a thread throughout the film. Legrand never forgets to foreground that red nectar and its importance to character. Wine is the lens of Paul’s understanding of the world, which is why it may be so skewed. His vineyard is an extension of his person, but this passion and care for grapes has nothing to do with how he treats his son or other people. Martin, though loyal, doesn’t posses the enigmatic quality of oneness with the land, the process of winemaking, or the palate necessary to enjoy and describe wine’s complexities that his father has. In fact Paul is downright condescending and insulting to his son for missing whatever mark he has internally set up for him. Martin however may one day succeed Paul as the heir to the vineyard. Paul’s longtime manager Francois is diagnosed with cancer at this time and when his son Philip, also in the wine business, returns from California, it presents an opportunity that is both timely and unique. Paul’s intentions prove Machiavellian as he tries to design a circumstance in which he can have the son he always wanted and a business partner to replace his ailing Manager. What now the cost of his machinations?
The polish of the picture, while serving the aesthetic of the upper echelon who populate the film, is ultimately its detractor. Its sheen and glide has an adverse effect on what makes the narrative compelling. By overstating with the camera, Legrand makes this ultimately insular film seem unable to fill that grand space to the fullest, or to live up to the expectations that the aesthetic is setting up…almost that of a thriller. A more imposing fixated camera and cropped framing might have made this feud more potent (then again, maybe this is Legrand’s way to form fit the function of the character’s inability to meet expectations that are improperly set?). There are also a few moments where the score takes on the urgency of, again, a posh thriller (brief as they are) and it sits just as uneasily. Fortunately the rest of the score is as minimal and pointed as can be. The performances are honed throughout and are the heart of the picture. It almost makes me think this might make a better play than a film.
You Will Be My Son is now playing at the Ritz Five.