Review by © Jane Freebury
A picturesque French vineyard on rolling hills sets the scene for this taut family drama. It’s a glorious setting where you might expect to see languid lunches on sunny days to celebrate the ripening fruit, but pretty soon it’s clear this isn’t going to happen.
The tension builds slowly, pacing itself to reveal in full measure the relationship between the owner of the estate and the son destined to take over the business. Father-son relationships are often in the spotlight these days in films like The Road and The Pursuit of Happyness (sic) where sole fathers were fending for young sons, and Life as a House and Beginners where fathers have to work things out with their teenage and young adult sons. In this Gilles Legrand film the relationship is especially toxic.
The patriarch, Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), is an eleventh generation maker of fine wine in the prestigious Saint-Émilion area, a choice spot for growing grapes since Roman times. He has the pedigree, but regrettably he has formed the view as he nears retirement that his son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) does not.
It’s Paul’s little joke that though Martin has neither the nose nor the palate for wine, he might have the ear, a reference to the iPod Martin uses while on his runs around the estate. Not only is Martin fit, he has a degree in viticulture and speaks four languages, yet his father treats him with contempt, mainly because the reticent young man is not like him—brash, confident, a real operator. To be fair, Paul doubts his bookish son has the innate appreciation or creativity necessary to sustain the business if he succeeds him. But little excuse for being such an awful person, taking every opportunity to humiliate his son. One wonders what the absent mother might have been like.
When Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), the son of Paul’s ailing associate, arrives home from Napa Valley where he had a job at the Coppola winery, Paul recognises the new arrival’s potential. A far superior heir for his business, whose only fault is a lousy taste in shoes. But that’s easily sorted. Paul cultivates the young man, and even begins to talk of adopting him, a bit rich when Philippe already has a father, albeit one who is terminally ill.
Paul is a petty despot, a King Lear of the vineyard who would disturb the natural order of things. At first it seems the only person to stand up to him is his daughter-in-law Alice (Anne Marivin), who the film gives some of the best lines. The dispirited Martin can make things feel flat some of the time, but the film has a big finish up its sleeve.
In a capsule: A taut family drama set on a picturesque vineyard in southern France. A father wants to disinherit his son and adopt a new one, and overturn the natural order in an interpersonal struggle that develops slowly for a big finish.