Film Review: Back to Burgundy

Satisfying, eye-pleasing French drama about three thirty-something siblings forced by circumstance to reunite on the family’s wine-producing homestead to decide its fate.
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Music Box Films, with its recent release of the doc Our Blood Is Wine and now with French writer-director Cédric Klapisch’s drama Back to Burgundy, seems to be on a bit of a wine binge. Klapisch proves a promising guide into this appealing subject. His delightful 2002 L’Auberge espagnole launched the careers of French stars Cécile de France, Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou and even Kelly Reilly and spawned a mini-franchise of films to follow. He already has many fans stateside (and studied film at NYU), so recognition might push the figures.

As onscreen wine tales go, Back to Burgundy may strike some audiences as a little thin. (The terrific 2011 Niels Arustrup starrer You Will Be My Son is premier cru in this vintage, and even Russell Crowe’s 2006 overpriced A Good Year gave more of a buzz.) But Back to Burgundy is after something more. The tip-off comes from the film’s French title, which translates as “what binds us.”

When their father becomes gravely ill, a sister and two brothers convene to determine the fate of their family wine business. After many years away, Jean (Pio Marmaï) returns to France. The black sheep of the family, Jean is the wanderer who left early and now lives in Australia with his Brazilian partner Alicia (María Valverde) and their young son. Left in Burgundy are sister Juliette (Ana Girardot), who has taken charge of the “domaine,” working with younger brother Jérémie (François Civil, of the sensational French series “Call My Agent”).

Jérémie has recently married Océane (Yamée Couture), and conveniently so, as she’s from one of the region’s more prestigious wine families. It’s Océane’s father Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) who comes forth with the tempting offer to buy the siblings’ winery when their father dies.

When he passes away, the three are forced to make some big decisions. There’s immediate tension as Jean is reprimanded for not even showing up at his mother’s funeral years earlier. But more important is what to do about continuing the business, especially as the inheritance tax is huge. Jean, with relationship problems back in Australia, equivocates.

Most serious about the vineyard is Juliette, who is most take-charge and hands-on. Her more earthy concerns include occasionally unruly or unreliable workers and the challenge of keeping the whole wine-growing process organic and free of chemicals.

Also key to the cast is creative collaborator and veteran actor Jean-Marc Roulot, who plays the estate manager and apparently brings his real-life experience as a winemaker to the role.

All performances are solid, but they go up against another star—the sweeping Burgundy scenery, especially the sprawling fields of vines and rolling hill countryside, all captured through the four seasons (of viniculture and grape harvesting) by cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine.

The film provides its share of tidbits about winemaking, especially the harvesting of grapes (e.g., where to cut stems and the importance of leaving the green verjus grapes atop the vines as they’re not yet ripe). And the stomping of grapes in giant vats with bare feet is always fun to watch (but not fun to think about when drinking the finished wine!). With emphasis on the process, the film also provides references to the importance of climate, the testing for sugar and PH, etc. The ABCs of tasting are already known to most of us.

Broadly speaking, wine films usually dive into the appreciation of good wine or emphasize the craft, process and sweat that get wine into bottles. Klapisch’s film, as his ending conveys, wants to go beyond by dramatizing “what binds us” all. With his examination of the pull and power of family and love, he makes Back to Burgundy worth a detour.

Click here for cast and crew information.