Fermenting daddy issues prove a headier concoction than any vintage produced at a French chateau in “Tu seras mon fils,” a classy, full-bodied family drama from Gallic scribe-helmer Gilles Legrand (“Malabar Princess”). Grouchy character thesp Niels Arestrup (“A Prophet,” the upcoming “War Horse”) is ideally cast as the coldhearted, overly pragmatic owner of a Saint-Emilion winery who considers his milquetoast son an unsuitable successor — though not for lack of trying. Locally, the pic became the first surprise hit of harvest season and is glossy and mainstream enough to entice distribs offshore. It’s also a shoo-in for a California-set remake.
Classically structured and played, the film immediately sets up its main conflict between widower and father Paul de Marseul (Arestrup) and his grown-up son, Martin (Lorant Deutsch), who lives in a separate wing of the family’s chateau with his wife (Anne Marivan). Bookish Martin excels at the administrative side of things, but his demanding old man has always kept him out of the winemaking process, a job that requires rigor, creativity and technical knowledge in equal doses.
Since Paul took over the family biz from his own father at age 17, he’s been responsible for creating the chateau’s reds and whites — the latter a rarity in Saint-Emilion — with his right-hand man, Francois (Patrick Chesnais). Typical of Paul’s controlling m.o., he actually finds out that Francois is terminally ill before even Francois does, forcing the winemaker to consider who will help him with the upcoming vintage.
Though he goes through the motions of offering the willing Martin a chance — something Paul does at least as much for the chance to mock him for his every mistake as to teach him something — the winemaker has also secretly contacted Francois’ golden-boy son, Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), who immediately quits his position at Coppola wines in California to return home when he hears about his father’s condition.
There are no big surprises in store in terms of where this setup is headed, especially when considering, as per press materials, that the Paul-Philippe storyline was partly inspired by Hal Holbrook’s paternal affection for Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild.” But the pic’s pleasures are nonetheless numerous, starting with its talented cast.
Deutsch, his Everyman face hiding an underlying tenacity, is pitch-perfect as the son who has the willingness but not necessarily the capacity to impress his dad; the thesp’s antagonistic chemistry with Arestrup rings true. Opposite Deutsch, newcomer Bridet makes a strong impression as Martin’s childhood pal-cum-sudden rival, a gifted prodigal son who, paradoxically, has to lose his own father to realize his potential.
Chesnais and Arestrup, who have the market on grumpy French codgers pretty much cornered, also deliver strong turns, with Arestrup precisely embodying another almost-heartless man. His Paul really has affection only for his work; his tragedy is the fact that he can’t make wine without the help of others.
Legrand and co-scripter Delphine de Vigan cleverly add a soupcon of backstory involving Paul’s own late father. This, together with Paul’s rocky relationship with his offspring and Francois and Philippe’s equally complicated bond, makes “Tu seras mon fils” a film about complex father-son relationships in general and the unfair expectations and burdens they create on both sides.
Tech package is silky smooth, from the glossy widescreen lensing (including a spectacular helicopter shot of a car crash amid the vines) to the classical score. Title translates as “You Will Be My Son.”