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BACK TO BURGUNDY (2017) review

April 13, 2018

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written by: Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena and Jean-Marc Roulot
produced by: Cédric Klapisch and Bruno Levy
directed by: Cédric Klapisch
rated: not rated
runtime: 113 min.
U.S. release date: October 19, 2017 (Chicago International Film Festival), March 23, 2018 (limited) & April 13-19, 2018 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)

 

“Back to Burgundy” is a French film about siblings in the past and of the present and the generational wine-making of their family in the titular French region. Cédric Klapisch directs this enjoyable film and co-wrote the screenplay with Bruno Levy and although wine runs throughout the story, one does not have to be a oenophile (a lover of wine), a connoisseur or a sommelier to appreciate the relatable and complex characters that grounds the film. The detailed wine-making process is a fascinating and integral part to the story actually. There are some weaknesses to the film – it may be a bit too on-the-nose at times with what its saying and hints at an unnecessary red herring, as well as offering some familiar parental stereotypes – but the geography and performances won me over with their charming and genuine manner. 

The three adult siblings who are reunited in this story are brought together by the recent illness of their father, primarily focusing on the eldest brother, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who returns to the family vineyard after living abroad for ten years. There’s a palpable hesitancy and uncertainty to Jean about being home again, a place that conjures challenging and comforting memories. Jean’s siblings, Juliette (Ana Girardot) and Jérémie (François Civil), are quite surprised to see their brother return. He had left with no announcement and was gone without contact, something that left them understandably confused, hurt and frustrated.

It doesn’t take long to detect that the siblings are going to have to determine what will become of the home they grew up in. The strong-willed yet somewhat insecure Juliette has remained there by herself, maintaining the talent for wine she developed as a girl. While the timid Jérémie has married into another wine-making family with the expectation that he will eventually partner in with his father-in-law’s business. He and his wife, Océane (Yamée Couture) are raising a toddler and would like to get out from under the opinionated and domineering presence of her father, Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling). Life decisions are pushed to the forefront when their father dies and the siblings are forced to consider what to do the family business as a threesome.

Unfortunately, the only thing they inherited is a large property tax, which only confound their options. As they discuss selling the vineyard to pay the tax or renting it out in parcels, the three become busy with harvest season and in the process they learn a few things about each other. Juliette and Jérémie are surprised to learn that Jean has a four-year-old son with his girlfriend, Alicia (María Valverde) and it remains to be seen what status Jean’s relationship with Alicia is at or whether or not he’ll return to them in Australia.

 

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Only in flashbacks do we see the patriarch (Éric Caravaca) of the family, when the siblings were children, in scenes that form the dynamic that bonds the siblings today and indicates how each sibling was impacted differently by their father. Like any family with multiple children, life was a little tougher on Jean, the first child. Jean is still greatly effected by his strained relationship with his father, something we see in these flashbacks but also in present scenes where the father appears to Jean. It’s not anything supernatural or a haunting, but it’s more like internal thoughts and images that are visualized, which is common after a loss.

 

Klapisch never overuses flashbacks as memory recollections, but his use of the siblings as children become more intriguing as the story unfolds. There are scenes, especially with Jean, where we see him interact with his younger self. It’s a really interesting approach and one that’s never too far-fetched considering how we as we grow older our thoughts are often of our younger selves – how we were raised and how we are raising our own children, as well as what our younger selves would think of where we’re at in life.

The geography of “Back to Burgundy” is important, since it not only provides rows and rows of vineyards to take in, it also provides an important place for these siblings to re-build their relationships. Apart from any urban environment, the siblings can’t hide from each other on their family home, making awkward and challenging conversations inevitable. The relationships between the adult trio are written with authenticity and acute awareness of subtle in-jokes and blatant button-pushing between siblings. There is identifiable growth in the arc of each sibling as Klapisch provides a fare share of time for each character to develop. Some elements are formulaic, but the approach is earnest.

Where the film provides an education is in the wine-making process that is intertwined throughout. Viewers like me, who like to drink wine and know very little of the process, should find these scenes intriguing. At no point does the picking of grapes (Klapisch appears as a grape picker, or “un vendangeur”) or the smashing of them with bare feet feel tonally out of place, since these scenes provide character development important to the richness of the story. We may not always know the jargon (and there’s a joke about that) or understand the fermenting process, but we appreciate seeing the siblings hire harvesters to assist them and understand the concern of rain clouds in the horizon, just as much as we appreciate Juliette indulging in a needed flirtation after a raucous wine opening celebration.

 

The actors who portray the siblings have appeared in primarily French films, with a few American projects here and there. The standout for me was Girardot as Juliette, who deftly conveys her character’s inner frustrations and insecurities – especially being one of the few women surrounded by men who thrust their fews on wine every which way -portraying someone who could easily run the family business, if she was just given the right amount of space and encouragement. Her indecision in the face of so many is understandable and something to appreciate. She has her own taste and gut instinct when it comes to wine-making, but bucking against the traditions of how her father used to make wine may take some time. That’s okay, since the film takes place over the course of a year.

Halfway through the film’s second act we hear Jean reflect in his narration, “Love is like wine. It needs time. It needs to ferment.” Granted, that’s probably the pinnacle of a redundant explanation than we we need, but it’s also a moment of realization and growth for the character that’s earned. As mentioned, I enjoy a good glass of wine, but I couldn’t necessarily point you toward a good wine. That’s up to you and your taste buds. I can however point you to “Back to Burgundy” a good movie about family and wine.

 

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RATING: ***

 

“Back to Burgundy”, the newest release from Music Box Films, premieres in Chicago on Friday, April 13 at 7pm at the Music Box Theatre.  After the sold-out screening, Dablon Vineyards will host a wine tasting in the Music Box Lounge and will be pouring Estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Unoaked Chardonnay all made in the classic Burgundy style. For more information and tickets, click here.

 

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