You Will Be My Son Is Alternately Compelling and Clichéd
The Great Santini with a pinch of Straw Dogs in French wine country, Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son recalls the “A” pictures Hollywood has basically stopped making. Whether Legrand’s alternately compelling and clichéd drama of father-son struggles achieves the greatness of the aforementioned films is another matter. Paul de Merseul (Niels Arestrup) is a revered French vintner, lording over his estate with kingly resolve. His mousy heir apparent, son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), is an object of constant disdain for Paul―so when head winemaker François (Patrick Chesnais) falls ill and his handsome son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) arrives to help, the stars align for Paul to have a new second-in-command. Further complicating matters, Martin’s beautiful wife, Alice (Anne Marivin), is lusted after by Paul and Philippe. With a Shakespearean set of family conflicts, the film can’t help but engage, aided supremely by Arestrup, who struts his hour and 40 minutes onscreen with the magnetism of a bitter, baleful lion in winter. Merciless tension is created each time he sends subtle yet pointed flirtations Alice’s way, his menace all the more unnerving for its quiet delivery. Unfortunately, Martin is positioned as the film’s main character, a grievous error. While Martin’s bookish, effeminate demeanor is believable, his passivity makes his perspective a poor one to tell a story through. The final minutes make him a bystander, rendering the potentially resonant ending instead frustratingly anticlimactic.
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