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.
The Video and Audio
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.
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.