Blood may be thicker than water, but wine is thicker than both. I’m surprised that the tyrannical pater familias and Bordeaux wine legend Paul de Marseul (the great Niels Arestrup) didn’t come up with a line like that, since the old troll was so prone to pedantic, oenological bon mots. Be that as it may, Gilles Legrand’s draggy melodrama about miserable characters who persist in their folly and never wise up is strictly vin ordinaire.
With a better treatment, this might have had the makings of an updated Elizabethan tragedy. Paul, an aging king of sorts, finds his milksop son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) an inadequate heir to the throne. But after bullying the kid since birth, what did he expect? Paul’s concerns for the future of the vineyard grow more urgent when he learns that his partner, François (Patrick Chesnais), whose uncanny nose and instincts have played a vital part in the vineyard’s success, has come down with terminal cancer. The obvious successor to François would be Martin, the logical next step before he inherits the estate. However, when Francois’s son and Martin’s best friend, Philippe (Nicolas Bridet), a hot shot wine expert currently working at Francis Ford Coppola’s (!) winery, comes to visit his moribund père, Paul finds in him the son he always wanted — to the mortification of Martin and François.
Great tragedies require memorable characters, dramatic arcs, and genuine pathos; here everyone seems a contestant in a “Survivor” episode. Paul abuses his son with tiresome predictability and repugnant nastiness, and Martin does nothing but (my apologies) whine. Where are Edgar Allan Poe and the cask of amontillado when you need them? Even a Claude Chabrol twist would have added some needed ferment.
As for the rest of the cast, François gets jaundiced and annoyed, and the callow Philippe hesitates to screw over his pal Martin until Paul buys him a pair of shoes costing 1200 euros. The only hint of class comes from Martin’s beautiful and inexplicably devoted wife Alice (Anne Marivin). With Armand Amar’s music — which consists of one ominous symphonic chord repeated throughout — underscoring the inertia, the rot here proves less than noble.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.