You Will Be My Son
For sexual minorities, it's not so unusual for families to be patchworks of people found and adopted along the way rather than for strict biological connections to hold sway. There's a sinister, and heterosexual, version of this kind of family building at work when a father, disappointed in his son, turns his covetous gaze to the handsome and charming son of a longtime employee and starts laying plans to adopt the young man and groom him for eventual ownership of a prestigious vineyard, in Gilles Legrand's film "You Will Be My Son."
Niels Arestrup delivers a powerhouse performance as Paul, the driven, often unlikeable father who heads a winemaking family whose estates and label has been part of the oenophilic landscape for eleven generations. Though son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) has a degree in winemaking, Paul prefers the dug-in-the-earth vinter's wisdom of his estate manager, François (Patrick Chesnais), and has relegated Martin to the sidelines.
When François becomes gravely ill, Martin is ready to step in -- but then Paul calls home Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), the confident, gifted son of François, Paul takes it into his head to solve his problem by taking Philippe under his wing -- and pushing Martin out of the nest. Paul goes so far as to start looking into legal options for adopting Philippe, raising ethical red flags (and hackles) all around. How far will Paul actually go? How much will Philippe agree to? How far will Martin let himself be pushed?
This is a movie as rich and intoxicating as the Bordeaux wine it glories in, with top-flight performances all around and first-rate direction. Legrand delights in cutting deeply into each character with his lens, and with the screenplay he co-wrote with Laure Gasparotto and Delphine de Vigan. Paul's heartlessness is fueled by a crushing sense of responsibility and anxiety to keep the family tradition of excellence intact; Martin's weakness leaves him sinking in bitter resentment as surely as though it were quicksand; Philippe is a good man, but ambitious and, after losing his job to rush home, a little untethered. The temptations and terrors each one faces squeeze them in ways true to their characters, and the film refuses to flinch when blood proves no thicker than water and bloodlines threaten to curdle.
There are a few false trails (a family secret, for one; a grisly additive Paul sprinkles into his wine vats, for another), but if they don't add much narratively they do provide a few extra, pungent notes to a film that offers the cinematic equivalent to a fine wine's complex flavor profile. This film asks you to drink deeply, and reminds you of something its winemaking characters know too well: A hint of something sour, even repugnant, can underscore a bottle's finer qualities.
There are few extras on this Blu-ray release from Cohen Media Group. The deleted scenes don't round out the film much (dropping them was a good idea), and after a time the interview with director Legrand and actor Deutsch starts to get a little tedious. (On working with Arestrup, Legrand summarizes, "I made him suffer. He made me suffer. We suffered." Juicy stuff, non?) But for those who enjoy a good vintage as much as a well-made (and very French) film, this title is nastily enjoyable and masterfully made.
"You Will Be My Son"