By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 21, 2013)
You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. C’est le vie. That’s the gist of Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son, an oft-told story of a dysfunctional family; in this case a vat of seething resentment fermenting in the confines of a Bordeaux region heirloom vineyard. I may not know a bottle of Batard Montrachet 1990 magnum from a boxed mountain Chablis in a taste test, but I do know my whines, and this vintage-style melodrama has a fine woodsy bouquet of neuroses; albeit with a rather predictable finish.
The relationship under examination is between father and son. Paul (Niels Arestrup) is a successful winemaker and owner of an estate valued at 30 million Euros. His son Martin (Larant Deustch) lives on the estate with wife Alice (Anne Marivin) and helps with office duties. Martin yearns to be given more responsibilities that will groom him for taking over the mantle , but the demanding and domineering Paul (a classic narcissistic personality) views Martin as the not-so heir apparent to the family business. Paul mocks his son when Martin reminds him about his college degree in wine making, telling him you must “have the palate” for it; he can only learn by doing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assess that Paul’s daily nitpicking is taking a psychic toll on Martin (“Do something about those nails,” Paul berates him at one point, grabbing his hand, “It’s unbecoming for a man.”). While Martin continues to sublimate his growing anger at his father (much to his wife’s chagrin), all those poisons that lurk in the mud are about to hatch out after Paul’s longtime family friend/estate manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) reveals that has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
When Francois’ son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) who has a stateside gig as “Coppola’s chief winemaker” comes home to spend time with his dying father, Paul’s mood palpably brightens. It turns out that Philippe, with his wine making talents, business savvy and personal charm, has all the requisite attributes of Paul’s idealized heir. Paul’s wishful thinking moves beyond the academic when he consults with his lawyer about the plausibility of adopting Philippe as his son. To Paul’s surprise and delight, it turns out to be doable (“It’s a wonder of our civil codes,” his lawyer says, glibly adding: “It’s led to many marvelous family feuds.”)
While it takes a while for the narrative to catch fire (the script, co-written by the director with Delphine de Vigan and Laure Gasparotto could have benefited from tightening), I was pulled in enough to develop a morbid curiosity as to which character was going to take the most shrapnel when this emotional powder keg inevitably made its earth-shattering ka-boom. I should warn you that none of the players in this soap opera are particularly likable, so it could be an uphill battle all the way for some viewers. Like some wines, you could store this one in the cellar to uncork when the mood dictates.