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+]