NEW YORK—Wine experts love to talk about how important terroir (the combination of land and environmental factors) is for Burgundy wines. That makes it very labor and resource intensive. A prodigal son is only back a few days when his estranged siblings put him to work overseeing the harvest. It is no vacation, but it might be the distraction from his marital problems that he needs in Cédric Klapisch’s “Back to Burgundy,” which opens March 23 in New York.
Jean made it home to Burgundy just in time for a final conversation with his father, but it was unsatisfyingly one-sided. Due to several misunderstandings, he is not particularly welcomed by his younger brother Jérémie, but middle sister Juliette tries to act as peacemaker. She is also the new boss of the family domain, for which all three now owe over $500,000 in inheritance taxes as the equal co-heirs.
Much to his surprise, Jean will stay through the harvest to help his siblings settle the estate business. It is also a way for him to take a time-out from his increasingly strained marriage, but he misses his son Alexander dearly. At least he manages to patch things up with Jérémie and Juliette, to an extent, as four distinctive Burgundy seasons pass.
Klapisch knew wine thanks to his connoisseur father and a stint as a waiter in a fancy New York restaurant, but the real expert is co-star Jean-Marc Roulot, an actor and real-life vintner, who plays the domain manager Marcel. He coached Klapisch and the cast through all the techniques of harvesting and subsequent domain business, so it is scrupulously realistic from a viticultural perspective.
As for the drama, that is Klapisch’s specialty. He is one of the best at writing and helming multi-character dramas that combine romantic and familial storylines. That might sound straight forward, but if it were so easy, everybody would be doing it [well].
Rather remarkably, Klapisch managed to film on-location on Burgundy over all four seasons, which isn’t “Boyhood,” but still represents an unusual level of commitment.
However, he might have been a little too enamored with the details of viticulture, because a few subplots are allowed to dead-end, such as Jean’s flirtation with Lina, an attractive seasonal harvest worker.
Nevertheless, “Burgundy” is a very human and forgiving examination of family and the constant struggles for those whose livelihood is rooted in the land.
Pio Marmaï, Ana Girardot, and François Civil are all terrific as Jean, Juliette and Jérémie, respectively, totally convincing us they have years of shared history and resentments together. Roulot is appealingly down-to-earth and obviously in his element as Marcel, while María Valverde adds some needed heat and intensity as Alicia.
It all looks magnifique, thanks to Klapisch’s stylish élan and Alexis Kavyrchine’s sun-dappled cinematography, which just revels in the Burgundy landscape. Their efforts certainly will not damper Burgundy’s burgeoning tourism or exploding real estate market.
Recommended for patrons of French cinema and French wine, “Back to Burgundy” opens March 23 in New York, at the Angelika Film Center, and the following Friday, March 30 in Queens, at the Kew Gardens Cinema.
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit jbspins.blogspot.com