Film Review: You Will Be My Son

Superb, handsomely bottled contemporary drama about a celebrated vineyard owner at war with the feeble son eager to inherit the business is ripe for tasting by demanding viewers.

Atop the many reasons to see Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son is another great performance from veteran French actor Niels Arestrup, who has starred in War Horse, Sarah’s Key and A Prophet, to name just a few credits. Playing a prosperous, narcissistic, aging wine estate owner battling both his son and inner demons, Arestrup has a meaty role in this robust, suspenseful story set and filmed in magnificent Bordeaux wine country. Legrand pays homage to this talent by packaging him with a fine script, a strong supporting cast and a rich production that make this fraught wine world both thrilling and chilling.

You’re Not My Son! could be an alternate title, so strong is world-class winemaker Paul’s disdain for his loser son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), the apparent heir to his esteemed vineyard. The gangly, stooped Martin is a compulsive runner who would rather sprint through the vineyard paths than tend to them. He often stutters when uttering platitudes and screws up on essential vineyard chores, from making sure only healthy grapes are gathered to assuring bottle labels are not askew. At least Martin’s pushy wife Alice (Anne Marivin) is on his side as she aggressively lobbies her father-in-law for larger living space on his property. Try as she and Martin do, they can’t even provide Paul with the grandchild he so wants.

Paul is hardly blameless in continuing the bad blood. He misses no opportunity to pounce on Martin and even sets him up to make mistakes. Matters grow critical when Paul’s longtime and loyal vineyard manager François (Patrick Chesnais), who lives simply with wife Madeleine (Valérie Mairesse) in rental quarters on the estate, is diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. This turn requires François’ son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) to return home from California, where he holds a high-level position at the Coppola vineyard. Philippe has been like family to Paul and now becomes more so, especially as François is on the brink of death. Paul and Philippe, kindred spirits as discerning oenophiles, love drinking and talking wine. Soon Paul is grooming Philippe to take on major vineyard responsibilities since his father can now barely oversee the harvest. Throughout all this, Martin grows more and more resentful and jealous as he’s sidelined to make way for Philippe.

When Philippe turns down Paul’s firm offer to become the vineyard’s second-in-command, the star vintner knows how to turn Philippe. He takes the young man along on an overnight trip to Paris where he’s receiving a prestigious Légion d’Honneur award at a posh event. That, some high-end shopping, and a few other tricks win over Philippe. But complications ensue, including Martin’s deterioration, Paul’s crafty maneuvering, and the dying François’ refusal to go quietly. The ending surprises, somewhat like the discovery of sediment at the bottom of a Grand Cru bottle.

Complexity in this classy vintage also comes from the gorgeous and authentic location shooting in the Saint-Emilion region and the insider’s look at the intricacies of wine-making and appreciation. What seals the film’s high rating is the lead performance from Arestrup, as well as those from Chesnais as the dying vineyard manager, Marivin as Martin’s tough as barrel-nails wife, and Bridet as Martin’s gifted vineyard rival and nemesis. Whether the result of direction or interpretation, Deutsch’s Martin may strike some viewers as too wimpy and easy a foil for so harsh and single-minded a father.