Back to Burgundy
2017, NR, 113 min. Directed by Cédric Klapisch. Starring Pio Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot, María Valverde, Yamée Couture, Florence Pernel, Jean-Marie Winling, Éric Caravaca.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 6, 2018
The seductive scenery in this French film will sink its hooks into any hungering soul, and the window into the winemaking process it offers will stimulate the juices of any armchair oenophile. But the dramatic core of Cédric Klapisch’s Back to Burgundy is pure boilerplate. It is table wine instead of vintage, leading to unremarkable quaffing instead of long-lingering sips. The members of the fictional family of vintners at the heart of this story summon remembrances of things past with nearly every drop of wine, but their recollections seem more like indulgences than insights.
Jean (Marmaï) returns home to his family’s estate after a 10-year absence. Ironically, it is his father’s impending death that brings the prodigal son home, after leaving as a young man a decade earlier to escape his father’s clutches. Jean spends the next year with his sister Juliette (Girardot) and brother Jérémie (Civil) in the wake of their father’s death as the siblings try to decide whether to continue the operation or sell the land to pay the hefty inheritance tax on it that’s now due. The present often elides with the past in the film as childhood memories poetically come to the fore without ever deepening in meaning. Jérémie has married into a neighboring winemaking family and is cowed by his domineering father-in-law who wants to buy the siblings’ acreage. Juliette is the one who has inherited the best nose for the business, and her struggle to come into her own as the estate’s grape guru is the most interesting of all the siblings’ arcs, yet it is the one that’s frustratingly given the least attention.
Klapisch (When the Cat’s Away, Family Resemblances) is a filmmaker who evinces a special feeling for community connections and family ties. The sentiments, however, outweigh the vision in this film. The siblings are an attractive bunch, capable of evoking the loving but complicated links among adult offspring. Yet their dialogue can be rife with sodden cliches about fermentation, life, and time’s passage. Images of the fecund countryside or the siblings stomping grapes together may be enough to besot the senses, but beware the murky residue that can cloud the mind.