They say you can’t choose your family, but apparently that well-known phrase never made its way to France. At the very least, no one bothered to tell Paul de Marseul, the legacy-obsessed vineyard owner at the center of You Will Be My Son (Tu Seras Mon Fils.) Cohen Media Group gave this tasty 2011 French offering a theatrical release last year, and now the film — which alternates between being a picturesque delight, a tense family drama, and a thriller — arrives on Blu-ray.
Niels Arestrup stars as Paul, who has a great nose (and palette) for winemaking. His adult son Martin (Lorant Deutsch) is a hard worker, but he didn’t inherit his father’s natural abilities. (Much to Martin’s chagrin, Paul never misses a chance to cruelly remind his son of this fact.) Since the vineyard’s longtime manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) is terminally ill, Martin is eager to become a bigger part of the family business. Enter Francois’s son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), a charismatic, successful California winemaker who returns home to be with his ailing father. After Paul enlists Philippe’s help with the upcoming harvest, he realizes he’d rather hand the family business over to someone else’s son rather than his own flesh and blood.
You Will Be My Son opens with a scene casually shrouded in mystery. We watch as an unknown person inside a coffin is cremated, and we see that Martin has a pretty sizable bruise on the left side of his face. How did the bruise get there, and could it be related to whoever is inside the coffin? The film doesn’t end up venturing too far into thriller territory, but that opening scene was a smart way of getting the audience’s gears turning.
Director Gilles Legrand seemed to be most interested in making a movie about fathers and sons. The Paul/Martin relationship was obviously the focal point of the film, and the tension between the condescending, domineering Paul and meek, beaten-down Martin only escalates as the story progresses. (Not surprisingly, Paul didn’t exactly have a great relationship with his own winemaking father.) But I was also pleasantly surprised by how much time Legrand dedicated to the more quietly fraught relationship between Francois and Philippe. (The fact that Philippe lived halfway around the world and knew nothing of his father’s grave condition probably should’ve been a clue.)
As it becomes clear that Paul and Francois should’ve just traded sons a long time ago — Paul would probably have to throw in a few draft picks to acquire the more strapping Philippe; meanwhile, Martin’s spirit appears to be breaking down at roughly the same rate as Francois’s cancer-ravaged body — the film brings up some interesting ideas about legacy and inheritance. For example, it feels like Paul should pass the family business to Martin because it’s the latter’s birthright, and he has worked hard to attain it. On the other hand, should Paul really be forced to hand off his beloved vineyard to Martin — instead of the more capable and qualified Philippe — just because Martin is family?
The story structure of You Will Be My Son raises these provocative questions implicitly. However, the film somewhat stumbles when Legrand overplays his hand a bit and eschews subtlety. There’s a lot of attention paid to the sorts of shoes these men wear, and there’s a bit where Paul excludes Martin from a newspaper photo and pointedly includes Philippe in a different photo op later on. I also assume that woe-is-me Martin’s name being as close as it is to “martyr” isn’t exactly a coincidence.
Arestrup is fantastic as, quite simply, a genuine sonofabitch. He’s great with Paul’s withering put-downs, but the actor’s smooth command of everything around him also makes Paul a magnetic personality. Deutsch, on the other hand, basically has to allow himself to get blown off the screen by Arestrup as Martin continues to be marginalized. Fortunately, the actor lets us glimpse Martin’s sweet side during scenes with his protective wife Alice (Anne Marivin), so we know he’s not a total loser. Deutsch is also quite good as Martin continues to unravel. Then there’s Chesnais, who doesn’t seem like he’s going to be around for very long given Francois’s grim prognosis, but ends up having plenty to say about Paul’s newfound affinity for Philippe. Meanwhile, Bridet initially comes off as a superficial charmer, but he eventually shows us the side of Philippe that wouldn’t totally mind inheriting another man’s birthright.
The film’s final act — the one that puts the body in the opening scene’s coffin — is clumsily executed, but still packs a downbeat, emotional punch. So does the rest of this well-acted, fine-looking French drama. And speaking of fine-looking…
You Will Be My Son is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 21 mbps. The film was shot on location in the French region of Saint Emilion. You’re not going to believe this, but pretty much every scene set at the real-life winery Chateau Clos Fourtet looks terrific. Cinematographer Yves Angelo wisely pulls back the camera every once in a while to capture the vastness of the region’s beauty, which is brightly reproduced on this Blu-ray. The image is warm and sun-kissed, with spot on color and contrast most of the time. (Legrand and Angelo resisted the temptation to hike up the contrast.) At the other end of the spectrum, strong black levels give us good separation and definition during the scenes set in the cavernous wine cellar. It’s not the sharpest or clearest image you’ll ever see, especially with most medium shots. However, there’s a good amount of detail in close-ups, and the presentation boasts a pleasing amount of understated grit and earthiness that actually suits the material.
To my ears, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French track is even more impressive than the strong visual presentation. The tone is set early on with Armand Amar’s grand, operatic score swelling out of the entire sound field. More impressively, every outdoor scene set at the vineyard is incredibly dynamic and fully alive with ambient noises that put you right out in the field along with the Marseuls. Even the subs manage to pipe in at surprising times; they give volume and depth to the flames that engulf the coffin. (The subs are also used to less surprising effect during a brief thunderstorm and for a scene set at a nightclub.) This is a well-rounded and extremely well-balanced track. The only minor drawback is that subtitle haters won’t be able to watch the film with an English dub because the disc doesn’t offer one. (It’s better this way…trust me.)
Interview with actor Lorant Deutsch and director Gilles Legrand: (14:37) I was expecting your typical, politically-correct platitudes, but this turned out to be a shockingly candid chat between the director and his star. Deutsch says he was extremely hesitant about playing a weak character like Martin because he didn’t want to get typecast in that kind of role. Eventually, he put his trust in his director’s hands. (The two previously worked together in Legrand’s 2008 film The Maiden and the Wolves.)
Later on, Deutsch admits he was dismayed to learn a few scenes featuring Martin’s more charismatic side had been cut from the film. He also laments being crushed on-screen by Arestrup. Deutsch does concede he ultimately found the role rewarding, but it was still surprising to see an actor speak with such openness about his ego. Presented in HD.
Deleted Scenes: (9:06) At least Deutsch can take some measure of comfort in the fact that some of those scenes showing Martin’s lighter side are included here. Otherwise, these are mostly extended versions of existing material, although we do get a definitive answer to a late plot point involving Martin and Alice. In all, there are eight scenes presented as a single chapter and in standard definition.
You can’t choose your family, but you can certainly choose to give this strong French drama a look. (It helps that both the film’s look and sound are great on this Blu-ray.) If you ever feel like you let your dad down, you’ll probably relate…and you’ll definitely be grateful you didn’t grow up with Paul de Marseul as your father.