When we last left Niels Arestrup, he was being a creepy old rich dude and tormenting a poor French girl into horrible things (somehow, sort of obliquely) in Our Children. In You Will Be My Son, he flips the script around by being a creepy old rich dude who torments everyone, but especially his son who doesn't have what it takes to take over the family biz.
Actually, this film was released before Our Children and even War Horse, but after Sarah's Key, but you know how it is with foreign films. Sometimes it takes two years for a movie to show up here.
By the way, let's stop for a moment to appreciate that title. The word emphasis could change everything about the story. Like, if it were You Will Be My Son, it suggests a defiance, like you've asked someone to be your son, and they said "no", so you're reasserting your dominance. If it's You Will Be My Son, then it suggests someone wanting to be someone else's son, and not yours, and you're slapping them down.
But if you're speaking to your daughter, it could be You Will Be My Son, meaning you're insisting they have a sex change.
The emphasis here, however, is more on the You, as the premise of the film is that crusty old Paul (Arestrup) runs a winery and is losing his number one man, Francois. His son, Martin, would like to take over but Paul is pretty sure the kid isn't up to it. Francois' son, Philippe, on the other hand, is doing very well in California, and when he comes back to visit his ailing pére, Paul uses that opportunity to, in essence, groom Philippe as a sort of late-life changeling.
Philippe is kind of into it because, hey, free winery. Martin and his wife Alice, not so much, to say nothing of Francois, who feels like his reward for a lifetime of faithful service is to have his son stolen. (Francois's mom is a little more pragmatic about it—because, hey, free winery.)
So, there's your story. There's a little give-and-take as Paul is more-and-less of a monster, but the movie is basically about how twisted he is. On the other hand, the movie's a little cagier about whether he's actually wrong.
Martin is a little hapless when it comes to wine. He's smart and diligent, but lacks the sensitivity to be a great winery-dude, at least according to Paul. The movie tends to back Paul up on this, if somewhat ambiguously. It's also a little ambiguous with regard to Martin's general masculinity. Certainly Paul doesn't think he measures up but Alice (Anne Marivin) is both hot and utterly devoted.
She's also no pushover when it comes to Paul. She's openly hostile to him, especially in defense of her husband. I looked for some sort of weakness there, like maybe an attraction to Philippe or (shudder) even Paul, but nope.
Which is a nice thing to see, even if just in a movie, but the movie actually makes a kind of weak case for Martin himself.
That brings us to the basic weakness of the film, which is that it paints a picture of its characters that don't alway seem borne out by their actions. Things happen and characters do things, but you can't always connect the characters with their actions.
Going back to Alice, for example, she seems to be aggressively sexual with Martin, you might think out of spite toward Paul, or to prove to herself (and maybe Paul and Philippe) that she'd chosen the right man, but the movie gives us nothing to back that up with. Martin never talks about it, and if it's just or even primarily about spite or justification for Alice, that never comes out.
It's not awful and this disconnect is nowhere as bad or as pander-y as Our Children, say, but great drama is driven by characters and this doesn't feel very driven.
We were okay with it.