With its opening flash-forward scene suggesting a posthumous filial reconciliation and its urbane, painfully tasteful tone, You Will Be My Son promises to be a routine tale of father and son overcoming their numerous differences and finally reaching an understanding. But writer-director Gilles Legrand has other ideas, smartly subverting the expected formula by having the patriarch in question, master winemaker Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), never give an inch in his domineering, condescending attitude toward his hapless adult son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), who he treats as a perpetual child.
A man so devoted to his art that he can only view people through the prism of wine metaphors, Paul is reluctant to hand down the business to Martin, who he sees as having no aptitude for the process. He nonetheless gives him a chance to move from the administrative side of the operation to the grape fields when his longtime manager, François (Patrick Chesnais), falls ill with terminal pancreatic cancer. But Martin doesn’t get long to try his hand, as François’s son, Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), shows up fresh from his gig at Coppola wines to visit his father and Paul, who immediately bonds with the younger man over both vino and high-end shoes, hands the reins over to Philippe. Relieved of his opportunity, Martin has nothing to do but suffer the humiliation his father heaps on him, as Paul continually belittles his son’s abilities and verbally emasculates him in front of his wife
In its twin portraits of the domineering patriarch who deals with wine far better than he does people, and his cowering, disturbed son, beaten down by years of ego-defeating abuse, the film sketches out two sturdy antagonists whose pathologies become more and more pronounced as Legrand moves his characters toward permanent estrangement rather than reconciliation. But for all of the director’s willingness to explore these people’s unexpected depths, he’s still hamstrung by his perpetually tasteful cinema-of-quality aesthetic, which encompasses not only a film’s worth of generically pretty shots, but an obtrusive round of arias on the soundtrack during the film’s dramatic moments. Even when combined with a few rather ridiculous plot turns, this stultified air of bland artiness neutralizes most of the dramatic tension that the film has conjured up, resulting in a film that wants to move beyond convention, but lacks the cinematic vision, if not the understanding of its characters, to get there.