Back to Burgundy
Siblings resolve family strife over a glass of wine in a French dramedy that goes down easy, evaporates quickly
Back to Burgundy (2018)
Directed by Cédric Klapisch
Cast: Pio Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil
Ten years ago Jean left his family—and his family’s humble yet picturesque vineyard in Burgundy—to see the world. Now, with his father dying, the prodigal son returns to the old homestead where he, his sister and his brother are primed to inherit the family business. Can they put the past behind them, learn to trust one another again and save the old-school vineyard in the face of modernization and money woes? That’s the simple set-up for French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch’s heartfelt, lightweight and just-short-of-twee film Back to Burgundy.
Over the years, Klapisch has established himself as a reliable, relatable purveyor of easy-to-digest ensemble dramedies of the faintly exotic and frequently romantic persuasion. When the Cat’s Away, Family Resemblances, L’Auberge Espagnole, Russian Dolls and Chinese Puzzle have set the tone over the years, and Back to Burgundy fits right alongside that art house crowd-pleasing list.
As the film starts, scruffy but handsome Jean (Pio Marmaï, Maestro) wanders back into the lush green valleys of Burgundy, backpack in hand. He reunites with no-nonsense sis Juliette (Ana Girardot, “The Returned”) and scrappy little bro Jérémie (François Civil, Frank). Jean’s siblings are happy to see him, but are still a petit bit peeved he never made it back for mom’s funeral. The conflicting emotions are put on hold, however, when dad promptly kicks the bucket. According to his will, all three kids inherit the house, the vineyard and the land on which it sits. None of them can sell it or do anything without the express agreement of the other two.
The pressing problem is that, in today’s market, the land is worth 100 times what the cash value of producing wine on it is. Sell off the whole shebang and the siblings will pocket an easy $6 million. That sounds like a good idea to Jean. He’s no longer connected to this place. He left as a young man because “nothing ever changes here.” He could use the dough. Plus, he’s got a girlfriend and a young son over in Australia, bugging him to get home soon. Of course if you think Jean isn’t going to have a major change of heart, you know nothing about movies. Even if the three would-be vintners do decide to keep the family estate, there’s the looming problem of the inheritance tax, which will set them back a cool half a million—money they don’t have.
Although Jean is champing at the bit to return to Australia, he sticks around for a few months, helping close out this year’s harvest and settle the question of the estate. Despite his various protestations against the gorgeously shabby French setting, he advises his gung ho sister in Zen-like, chill-dude axioms. “You like wine, you make wine,” he tells her.
Juliette is clearly the brains of this operation. Though her brothers have been trained in the ins and outs of the wine business, she’s the one with the flawless palate and perfect nose. Her heart and soul are planted deep in the soil, and she’s committed to continuing what her family has done on this land for generations. Nonetheless, Juliette doesn’t think she’s cut out to be a boss. When the temp workers (college kids, mostly) picking the grapes run amok, she doesn’t have the stones to stand up to them.
Jérémie, meanwhile, is the sensitive one, the emotional bridge between hotheaded Jean and business-minded Juliette. … If only there were some way Jean, Juliette and Jérémie could, I don’t know, combine their various skills to run the vineyard.
Despite the fact that rebellious Jean repeatedly encourages his dutiful sister to break with tradition and bottle a more adventurous type of wine, Back to Burgundy doesn’t exactly stray from the formula itself. Too smooth and fruity, dismisses Jean of the old family recipe as he pushes for something riskier and more acidic. And yet the film’s narrative finds few real conflicts to distract its straightforward storyline. A few scenes after being angrily attacked for missing his mother’s funeral, Jean mentions that it happened the same day his son was born. Conflict resolved! In the end, the film’s final solution to all the family’s problems is simple, easy and rather obvious from the get-go. Few roadblocks pop up that aren’t resolved a scene or two later.
Instead, Klapisch distracts audiences with his sensual attention to detail. Light breezes dances through through the twisted vines. Grapes glisten in the dappled sunlight. A lusty, wine-soaked end-of-harvest party explodes with music and laughter. It makes for a hell of a travel brochure and a perfectly pleasurable cinematic experience. Just don’t go into it expecting something other than perfectly palatable table wine. It may not be complex, but the bottle is awfully pretty, and it gets the job done.