Dir. Gilles Legrand
(2013, R, 102 minutes)
Director Gilles Legrand‘s riveting You Will Be My Son begins as a simple family drama but gradually transforms into something Shakespearean. It’s the story of a French vineyard, where an aging winemaker, Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), must plan for the future of his estate. His brother, François (Patrick Chesnais), is dying of cancer, and his well-meaning son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), is not up to his exacting standards. The very first shot of the film is of a coffin. The remainder of the film shows us, with gradually building tension, how we get there.
Arestrup’s performance is the film’s focal point. He plays Paul not as an evil man, per se, but as one fully immune to familial affection: cold, distant, withering in his disapproval. He doesn’t seem malicious, but in a way that’s worse; his judgment is matter-of-fact, unmoved by emotions. He is intent on preserving his professional legacy and thus runs his family like a business, and sows resentment all around him, in ways we expect and ways we don’t. There is conflict between the brothers, between fathers and sons, professional and personal jealousies, cruel decisions and turns of fate.
Legrand also co-wrote the screenplay, which is excellent in how it deepens our understanding of its characters over time, sometimes by revealing details of the past, at other times in subtext suggested by the actors’ performances. For instance, there is a late scene in which François warns his own prodigal son, Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), against making a particular business decision, and in his emotional outburst we can sense unexpressed resentment rising to the surface.
In scenes like those, Legrand builds a story in which the outcome is surprising yet inevitable, decided long ago by who the characters are and how they’ve treated each other and been treated all these years. Those are some of the best kinds of stories, where the plot is simply the logical outcome of human nature.