You Will Be My Son: Film Review

Niels Arestrup delivers an award-caliber turn as a malevolent patriarch in this gripping melodrama.

Gilles Legrand's psychological thriller concerns the intergenerational battle for control of a French vineyard.

A deliciously entertaining melodrama with echoes of both biblical stories and Shakespeare, Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son somehow manages to make a battle for control of a vineyard seem utterly fascinating. Niels Aresturp delivers a powerhouse performance as a malevolent patriarch in this French psychological thriller recently showcased at Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival before its stateside release in May.

STORY: French Stars Cross the Atlantic for Unifrance's 17th Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York

Oenophiles will relish the atmosphere of this film that concerns Paul (Arestrup), an aging vineyard owner who treats his loyal son Martin (Lorant Deutsch) with barely disguised contempt for reasons that are revealed only towards the end. He reserves his affections mainly for Francois (Patrick Chesnais), the vineyard’s expert caretaker of nearly four decades. When the elderly Francois is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Martin naturally expects to assume his mantle. But his ambitions are thwarted by the arrival of Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), Francois’ dashing and talented son who has already proven himself with his successful stewardship of a California winery. Suddenly Paul lavishes all his attentions on this prodigal son, with Martin and his loving wife Alice (Anne Marivin) looking on with increasingly dismay.

Culminating with the sort of diabolical narrative flourish of which any prime time television soap would be proud, the film overcomes its schematic plot elements with finely observed characterizations and rich dialogue. But what really makes it work is Arestrup’s superbly controlled turn as the King Lear-like vineyard owner whose elegant Gallic charm fails to mask a raging ego and ruthlessness that makes him as compelling as he is thoroughly dislikable. The supporting performances are equally superb, with Deutsch movingly conveying Martin’s mounting anguish and Chesnais delivering a subtle, sly turn as the caretaker caught up in the generational battle.  

Working from a beautifully calibrated screenplay co-written with Delphine de Vigan, the filmmaker fully exploits the beauty of the French region of Saint Emilion for this gripping family drama whose elemental themes will resonate with viewers even if their knowledge of wine is limited to choosing between the house red or white.

Venue: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Production: Epithete Films

Cast: Niels Arestrup, Lorant Deutsch, Patrick Chesnais, Anne Marivan, Nicolas Bridet, Valerie Mairesse, Jean-marc Roulot

Director: Gilles Legrand

Screenwriters: Gilles Legrand, Delphine de Vigan

Producers: Frederick Brillion, Gilles Legrand

Director of photography: Yves Angelo

Editor: Andrea Sedlackova

Production designer: Philippe Roux

Costume designer: Tess Hammami

Composer: Armand Amar

Not rated, 101 min.