As the son of prestigious winemaker Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), Martin (Lorant Deutsch) naturally carries a great deal of pressure on his shoulders in his responsibilities as his father's assistant, especially with the moment he takes over the business creeping up on the horizon. Most of the pressure, however, comes from Paul himself, whose acidic comments about Martin's limited palette when it comes to tasting the wine itself, or his willingness to turn much of the business over to corporate interests cut to the bone. Their conflict takes a turn for the worse when Paul's longtime partner, Francois Amelot (Patrick Chesnais), is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This summons Francois' winemaker son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) to town, and Paul's obvious interest in having Philippe take over instead of Martin lights a powder keg of repressed frustration.
Unlike Paul, who cannot resist the opportunity for a withering glance or a cutting barb, You Will Be My Son clutches the viewer but never quite digs in. Although much of the interpersonal barbarism in Paul and Martin's relationship is sharply written and performed, it's always the specific line or moment that resonates, rather than the conflict or characters as a whole. It's a handsomely made movie, filled with gorgeous photography of the French countryside, and its restraint is generally admirable, but the screenplay's manipulation is too present, and Deutsch is sorely lacking in what is ostensibly the lead role, or at least the character that is meant to garner most of the audience's sympathy.
Right from the beginning, Paul and Martin's conflict isn't as compelling as it ought to be, as for a good fifteen to twenty minutes, Martin is hardly a character. Although the movie opens with Martin, its focus is on Paul and his dedication to the craft and detail of winemaking. Although Paul is certainly harsher and quicker to judge Martin's intentions, his desire to run his business the old-fashioned way and his attention to detail are...frankly, not that unusual. In one scene, Paul criticizes Martin for taking apart a piece of equipment and trying to fix it, eventually snapping at Martin for repeating everything he says as a question. Considering how little we get of Martin outside of his irritation at not getting more respect, it's a legitimate gripe that honestly makes Martin seem dumber than he is. Is it wrong for Paul to expect mold and unripened grapes to be removed on the vine before they're placed in boxes and moved indoors? Shouldn't a winemaker have a developed palette?
The more compelling angle is how Paul treats Martin as a son, especially after Philippe's arrival. Without a single thought of how Martin might feel, Paul fetes Philippe with gifts, drinks with him, ultimately asking him to step in for Francois in supervising the harvest. His casual, callous disregard for how cruel he's being to Martin is far more compelling than any business-based complaints he might have about Martin's work. There are rough patches and suspension of disbelief required -- backstory as to why Paul treats Martin so harshly is unnecessary, Martin can still come off as whiny and childish as Paul accuses him of being, and it's ridiculous how easily Philippe goes along with Paul's wishes, especially after his full, heartless intentions are revealed -- but dramatically, it works.
The weak link in the cast is Deutsch. Whether it's the lack of stronger material in the script or just the way director Gilles Legrand wanted him to play it, he often comes off as an ineffectual man-child. Scene after scene ends with Martin doing nothing but staring in upset disbelief at something his father has said or done, and when he finally explodes, it's less of a dramatic payoff and more like a temper tantrum, justified as it may be. Arestrup runs rings around him, exuding a perfectly hateful manipulative charm. Although Philippe may be too clueless, Bridet plays him with a natural charm, and expresses a deep sadness over his father's condition, which adds a nice complexity as to whether he's a player or a pawn. In the background, Anne Marivin practically makes more of an impression as Martin's wife than Deutsch does as Martin, and Chesnais juggles the trauma of his terminal illness with his struggle to make sense of what's going on between Paul and Philippe. One wonders if Martin could have been cut out, and Paul's business advances toward his son could've represented "the son he never had" without the film missing a beat.
As with all of their releases, Cohen Media brings You Will Be My Son to Blu-Ray in a transparent Viva Elite case, with the front cover artwork (a fairly bland poster of the actors standing around in front of the fields as a backdrop) framed inside a large red "C." Inside the case, there is a four-page "booklet" featuring a short cast list and chapters, but no actual notes or comments about the film.
The Video and Audio
Although the quirks of this 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer are all intentional, the overall appearance leaves something to be desired. The film was shot on 35mm, but whatever post-production processes were used on it results in a more digital-looking image. In low-light conditions, such as the very first scene, and all that take place in the dimly-lit wine cellar, are coated in heavy grain that looks more like noise, filling the frame with white flecks. This seems to be a result of the film development process, but it's a bit of a distraction. When the setting is brighter, the speckling goes away, but the image often appears flat or tactile, offering minimal textural detail, especially indoors, which are generally a drab gray or blue. Out in the golden fields, Legrand goes for a hazy glow -- the film at its most visually appealing -- but still, this minimalizes the kind of "pop" one expects from HD. Those watching closely will also see not just black crush, but crush that becomes a blue or dark purple banding artifact, mainly on jackets and pants. The overall level of clarity is up to Blu-Ray standards, but the collective result of these little quibbles makes for an unexpectedly underwhelming whole.
Thankfully, the film's French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does not have the same problem. The operatic music is rendered with impressive precision, tiny atmospheric details come through with a realistic crispness and strong directionality, and dialogue is balanced and natural, capturing the atmosphere without losing any clarity. A brief club scene also engages the low end. English subtitles are provided.
Two extras are included. The first is an interview (14:37, HD) with Legrand and Deutsch. They touch on a number of topics, including casting, Deutsch's character, and some of the things that were deleted from the movie, but the interview is a little on the dry side. This is followed by a selection of deleted scenes (9:06, SD), which are mostly expository, setting up things that pay off just fine in the finished film even without the extra exposition.
Trailers for The Artist and the Model, Mademoiselle C, Hail Mary, and For Ever Mozart play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for You Will Be My Son is also included.
You Will Be My Son is not a poor film, but the story never quite comes alive as it ought to, thanks to Deutsch's performance and some of the script's less-refined patches. It's good enough to merit a rental for those intrigued by the plot or fans of Legrand, Arestrup, or even Bridet, but only a rental.
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