You Will Be My Son (M) ****½
Stars Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Anne Marivin, Nicolas Bridet; directed by Gilles Legrand; 102 minutes.
The relationship between a father and a son is a complex one: love can sometimes be tainted - on one or both sides - by other, less positive feelings, such as disappointment, envy, resentment, competitiveness and excessive expectations. This sobering French film deals with two father-son relationships and won't be for all tastes. Emotionally, it isn't the easiest viewing, but despite a melodramatic turn towards the end, it's a well-acted, atmospheric story. Just don't go in expecting a frothy Gallic romp.
Widower Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) runs a successful vineyard that has been in the family for generations. His son Martin (Lorant Deutsch) works in administration for him but Paul is contemptuous of his abilities as a winemaker and seldom passes up an opportunity to belittle the somewhat diffident young man and treat him with scorn and disdain. Tellingly, he has more respect for Martin's feisty wife Alice (Anne Marivin), though she doesn't like him because of his treatment of her husband.
Paul's longtime estate manager, Francois (Patrick Chesnais), is dying and Martin hopes this will be his opportunity to take on a bigger role in the business. But when Francois's son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) arrives, having quit his winemaking job in California to be with his father, the situation becomes even more fraught. Paul is impressed with Philippe's abilities and lavishes the praise and attention on him that he never gave Martin - even to the extent of offering him the job of estate manager when his father dies.
Although the film tends to take Martin's side, there is complexity and depth to the characters and situations enabling us to see various points of view: Paul, though cruel, is concerned for the future of the renowned vineyard and may be justified in thinking Martin isn't as talented a winemaker as Philippe, although how much of this situation is of Paul's creation is arguable. Philippe, who doesn't seem to be a bad sort, is uncomfortably caught up in the dysfunctional relationship of Paul and Martin. And Francois has his own resentments at the situation that is developing and his advice to his son is not without merit.
The music can be a little overbearing and, as noted, there's one crucial twist that might seem a bit much. But the story, told well in straightforward fashion by director and co-writer Gilles Legrand, is a strong one. This is a film for people who like a good character piece with fine performances and something to think about.