Awash with a macabre Bacchian tone, Gilles Legrand’s intense family drama You Will Be My Son (Tu Seras Mon Fils, 2011) sees renowned French-Danish actor Niels Arestrup play a mercantile vineyard owner in a story set amid the fertile fields of Saint-Émilion, in the south west of France. Prestigious winemaker Paul de Marseul (Arestrup) lives a life of indulgence and luxury in his lavish château, where year on year he produces some of the world’s finest vintages. His son, Martin (Loránt Deutsch), lacks the refinement of his father, but is desperate to take over the family business once the old man retires.
In his father’s eyes, Martin lacks all the qualities of a good winemaker; his palate is weak, he’s hardly creative, he spends too much time exercising and is yet to produce the heir that Paul so desperately wants. When Paul’s steward François (Patrick Chesnais) becomes terminally ill, the Machiavellian vintner takes it upon himself to contact the man’s son Philippe (Nicholas Bridet), who leaps at the chance to name himself as his successor. The situation becomes acidulous as Martin feels more and more neglected, leading to the revelation of a dark family secret.
Opening in a crematorium accompanied by a full-bodied operatic score, we know from the off that Paul has died, leaving his son in an emotionally confused state as to how he felt towards his father. Backtracking to a few months earlier, we see a story of betrayal and obsessions with familial dynasty unfold. Arestrup has been perfectly cast as the family patriarch, providing a suitable level of hatefulness. Meanwhile the gregarious and successful Philippe is the whining Martin’s antithesis, enamoured by Paul’s sense of class (sharing an equally extravagant taste in leather shoes), yet conflicted by his own sense of familial loyalty to François. This triangle is peppered with secondary characters driving the plot forward, including a suitably feisty performance from Anne Marivan as Martin’s wife, Alice.
Yves Angelo’s painterly cinematography captures the beautiful backdrop of the region in exquisite wide-angle shots. There are the expansive Chartreuse green fields contrasted with the yellowing bricks of the surrounding buildings and the continual use of the thick, glossy blood reds of a heavy Bordeaux. Visually the film could not be more beautiful, whilst the story itself is as acerbic as wine left open too long. However, whilst captivating for the most part, the continual bitterness and resentment felt within the de Marseul family is almost entirely without relief, and does become more than a little oppressive.
Legrand’s intriguing and surprising You Will Be My Son is the sort of dark and twisted familial drama that only the French seem capable of fully realising, with the beauty of the lush Saint-Émilion landscape neatly contrasted with the abhorrent nature of a family unable to love one another. One thing is certain – you’ll be left with this film’s bitter aftertaste for days to come, whether you like it or not.