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Review: ‘You Will Be My Son’ Tests The Bonds Between Father And Son With Truth And Ugliness

Review: 'You Will Be My Son' Tests The Bonds Between Father And Son With Truth And Ugliness

You Will Be My Son” could very
well be the “Moby Dick” of stories about realistically awful fathers. The
beauty of a gorgeous vineyard in France is obscured by the monstrous
countenance of Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), a bitter old man caring for his
massive wine business with a pompous sense of ownership that shrinks all those
around him. The man who bears the brunt of this condescension, however, is his
own son. Paul considers himself raised off the land whereas dedicated son
Martin (Lorant Deutsch) is college-educated. Paul, a beefy, overweight older
man with a brusque manner, barrels into rooms with his top buttons undone, his
beard unkempt and usually with a bottle of wine in his chubby fingers. Martin,
by contrast, is a lanky, weak-chinned intellectual with a finely-ironed
wardrobe and a knowledge of wine that comes not from taste or touch, but from

Nonetheless, Martin is highly
skilled and prepared to take over the family business now that his father, a
widower, has hit retirement age. Paul, who stubbornly refuses to step
down, bickers and belittles his son, noting that he lacks the skill to care for
the land. It’s not simply a distrust of academia that bothers him, but a lack of lust, for although
Paul never once places his hands on a lover during the film’s run-time, Arstrup loads this gregarious businessman with a consuming passion for wine; he’s never far from a bottle and it’s his favourite topic of conversation. He openly scoffs at
the well-rounded life that Martin leads and he can’t get his head
around the philosophy of waking up early every morning, as Martin does, to jog and further sharpen a thin physique.

The château is a remarkably
romantic location for wine-making and director Gilles Legrand manages to shoot
a film that, on mute, seems like something of a vacation. The sunlight kisses
the endless fields, and the vineyard has an overwhelming scale that hammers
home the underlying point of it being bound to exist beyond both Paul and Martin.
When characters begin plucking grapes and sucking the skin off, it almost feels
like the film should be accompanied by a scratch-and-sniff card. And wine romantics
will have no shortage of enthusiasm for the quieter scenes where Paul and
Martin pause their feuding to sample the wares.

The title comes from a
development in the story that feels borderline Cronenbergian. Paul’s
partner Francois is ailing, and Francois’ jet-setting wine prodigy son Philippe
arrives in town to ease the burden, immediately entering Paul’s good graces.
Martin has seemed poised to legally inherit the land, and maintains a sense of
patience through the hurricane of turmoil brought upon by the emotional abuse of his father. But he’s all-too-often shooed away while Paul and Philippe spend time together, Paul feeling a particular kinship with this young man. Soon, the
lines begin to blur between fathers and sons, a line that illustrates Legrand’s
interest in class; the land belongs to Paul, but both Francois and Martin live
there with their respective wives. A stronger man would resist taking advantage
of the situation to throw his weight around. Paul, who can never love his son
the way he loves a tall drink, is not that man and when Paul learns about a quirk
in the legal system that could draw him closer to Philippe, feeble Francois is
powerless to interrupt a fiendishly creepy power struggle.

“You Will Be My Son” traffics in
a certain type of melodrama that involves a small drop of tragedy to advance
the pieces of a chess board. The struggle between Paul and Martin feels
authentic, that of a father who doesn’t even recognize his son. The picture
moves at a smooth enough pace to illustrate both Paul’s irritation as well as
Martin’s impotent frustration, but the keys pressed sometimes feel too
systematic: it’s something of a twist on this formula that Martin is very
sexually active with his wife, but his attitudes and defiance are so
milquetoast that it’s easy for Paul to sling arrows towards him, questioning
his manhood and hoping a magical phrase will trigger an awakening. There’s a
ton of truth and ugliness to “You Will Be My Son,” and the minor digressions
into soapy territory keep threatening to derail but it never does thanks to
Arestrup, a force of nature who grabs his scenes by the throat and never lets
go. Senselessly cruel at first, he soon gives deep psychological dimension to a
contemporary sociopath that keeps the real truths of this film hidden until you’re
still unpacking it hours later. [B+]

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