‘You Will Be My Son’: Arestrup rules

August 12, 2013


Niels Arestrup may be the most commandingly passive-aggressive father figure in the current cinema.

In films such as “A Prophet,” the upcoming “Our Children” and, this week, “You Will Be My Son,” the leonine Arestrup plays a series of patriarchs with distinctly ambivalent relationships with their sons (though he was a father figure, rather than actual father, in “A Prophet”). “You Will Be My Son” is a fascinating study of behavior: The domineering but always courtly Paul de Marseul, as played by Arestrup, casually but purposely disrupts the lives of everyone around him to achieve his own ends.

Paul owns an estate that bottles award-winning wine beloved of oenophiles. But when his winery’s manager, Francois (Patrick Chesnais), is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Paul realizes he faces what, to him, is a stark future. Francois has been his right hand, a man whose palate and viniculture skills are the equal of Paul’s, though always in service to Paul’s tastes and vision.

Paul’s only child, his son, Martin (Lorant Deutsch), is a plodder, to whom Paul has delegated the scutwork, including marketing and distribution. Martin, however, has a college degree in viniculture and believes he has the wine-making skills to replace Francois. His father alternately belittles and ignores him, then changes his mind and decides to give Martin a chance to prove he can replace Francois.

But the audition is doomed because Paul makes himself impossible to please, suddenly so hands-on that he can nitpick everything Martin does. Martin whines to his long-suffering wife, who constantly pushes him to stand up to his manipulative father and boss.

Then Francois’ son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) returns to look after his dying father. A rising star in the wine world who has been creating vintages for the Coppola winery in Sonoma County, Philippe has known Paul all his life – and Paul is suddenly struck with the idea of making Philippe his second-in-command, while Francois is dying.

It’s not an idea that strikes anyone as workable, but that doesn’t stop Paul in the film’s second hour. Director and co-writer Gilles Legrand shows us Paul’s machinations, utilizing those passive-aggressive skills to reach his goals. His victims can’t quite believe his audacity, which is what he is counting on.

Arestrup, with his regal bearing and icy blue gaze, has the most searing facial expression of simmering anger this side of Samuel L. Jackson. With his mane of white hair, his diffident manner and cutting tone, he regularly eviscerates Deutsch’s Martin, who can only sputter ineffectively. Arestrup embodies the man’s professional charm and personal venom.

Chesnais makes a spikey counterpoint as Francois, whose stolid demeanor continually is disrupted by his encroaching mortality. Deutsch and Bridet, as sons who feel like they are their fathers’ marionettes, are interesting targets for Arestrup’s rampaging ego.

“You Will Be My Son” is not an invitation – it’s a command. The tyranny of fatherhood doesn’t have a more intimidating embodiment than Niels Arestrup.

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