Bad dads are a staple of melodrama, and they come in numerous varieties. There’s the Tyrannical Dad, who brooks no challenge to his authority: Robert Duvall in The Great Santini, James Coburn in Affliction, etc. There’s the Neglectful Dad, who’s generally too busy with work to pay attention to the kids: endless examples, all pretty much straight out of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle.” And then there’s the Disappointed Dad, for whom nothing his son does—it’s always a son, never a daughter—remotely lives up to his grandiose expectations. You Will Be My Son, a French import about a family of vintners,features perhaps the ultimate Disappointed Dad, as the film beats the old man’s contempt for his biological offspring into the dirt from which he harvests his grapes—with no help from his useless, ineffectual boy.
If the title seems a mite confusing, that’s because the patriarch (Niels Arestrup) isn’t speaking to his own child (Lorànt Deutsch). An old-school winemaker who relies on his nose and palate, Arestrup couldn’t care less about Deutsch’s book learnin’ and his interest in marketing strategies. He wants a proper heir—someone who resembles himself, more or less—and he eventually finds one in the son (Nicolas Bridet) of his longtime estate manager (Patrick Chesnais). Bridet had been working in California, as Francis Ford Coppola’s head vintner, but has returned to France to tend to Chesnais, who’s dying of cancer. Arestrup, who’d reluctantly agreed to give his own son a shot at running the business, immediately offers Bridet the job, along with a guarantee of inheriting his $30 million fortune. He even consults an attorney about the possibility of adopting Bridet, in order to forestall any legal challenges from poor miserable Deutsch.
With this basic conflict established early on, You Will Be My Son endlessly spins its wheels, offering up scene after scene of Deutsch screwing up, or just plain existing, and Arestrup tossing deeply disgusted glances in his direction. (Deutsch seems to have been cast primarily on the basis of looking as meek and rabbit-like as Arestrup looks robust and bearish.) And when the story does finally, belatedly develop, it does so in a ludicrous way, building to a climactic act of offhanded violence that plays like desperation on the part of the screenwriters (Delphine De Vigan and director Gilles Legrand) rather than the character who commits it. But Arestrup—so memorably menacing in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped—remains a magnetic screen presence, so if 102 minutes of first-rate haughty disdain will trigger tender memories of your own bad dad, disregard the above.