Gilles Legrand uncorks family strife in ‘You Will Be My Son’
Although all the “Star Wars” films have been global hits, “The Force Awakens” is only the second film in the long-running franchise to join the billion-dollar club.(Film Frame / Associated Press)
Here are the other members of the coveted $1-billion club:
In just 17 days of release, the latest film in the “Fast and Furious” franchise became the fastest film to cross the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office.(Universal Pictures)
The Marvel super-sequel has earned more than $1 billion at the global box office, making it the third Marvel Studios film to reach that milestone.(Marvel / TNS)
The “Despicable Me” spin-off “Minions” is only the third animated movie to cross the billion-dollar mark.(Illumination Entertainment / AP)
Gilles Legrand’s harrowing psychological drama “You Will Be My Son,” which opened Wednesday, is a study in contrasts.
Set in a lush French vineyard estate in Saint-Émilion near Bordeaux, the film captures the beauty and bouquet of the legendary wine region. But behind the walls of the estate lurks a dark ugliness: Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), the passionate, brilliant winemaker with the heart of a monster who treats his mild-mannered grown son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) like a dog.
Though his son has tried all his life to please his widower father, Paul doesn’t think Martin has what it takes to take over the family business. He favors his dying estate manager’s charismatic son, Philippe (Nicolas Bridet).
Legrand said in an email interview that he didn’t start out to make a movie about fathers and sons. He wanted to explore the drama inherent in vineyard estates.
“I visited famous vineyards and spoke with the owners about their troubles,” he said. “If you want to make a movie, you need to find ‘conflicts.’ The big trouble in those families is the transmission of the estate. If you have trouble with your children, the transmission could be complicated. You have to transmit to your own children. So if you think that your son is unable to succeed, that can be a big problem.”
Legrand has interesting notions of love between parents and children: He believes parents have to love their children only when they are young.
“But they are not obliged to when they become an adult,” he said. “And we are not obliged to love our parents, especially if they are unfair or nasty.”
During a visit to an estate in Saint-Émilion, Legrand encountered a father and son who had an uneasy relationship not far removed from the Paul and Martin dynamic — “a strong, dominant male and his poor son who was unable to express himself. It was painful to watch.”
Legrand said the film isn’t autobiographical.
“I left home when I was 18,” he said, “precisely because I wanted to escape conflict with my father. I think I have a good relationship with my son. But I think it’s very difficult to grow up in the shadow of a dominant father, especially if he is charismatic or powerful. I think fathers have a great responsibility in the success or failure of their children.”
Legrand said several famous French actors over the age of 60 wanted to play Paul. Arestrup was one of them but was about to make another film when Legrand contacted him.
“A few weeks after that, I had a problem with another actor,” said Legrand. “I called [Arestrup] again and the film he was supposed to do had been canceled.”
Arestrup (“War Horse,” “A Prophet”), who has played a memorable gallery of villains and bullies, is fearless as Paul. The filmmaker said he brought a “quiet” violence to his role.
“Just a glance and he kills you,” Legrand said.
The veteran actor was not the easiest person to direct.
“He has his ideas and it was very difficult to change things or details,” Legrand said, adding “now we are good friends.”
Arestrup remained primarily in character during the production, interacting sparingly with Deutsch, the actor who played his son.
“I spoke very little with the other actors because my character trusts only himself and is wary of everything,” Arestrup said in an email interview. “Besides, I am rather silent by nature.”
The actor added that being a father in real life didn’t pose “any problems in approaching this role, no more so than the fact that being more or less ‘normal’ has not prevented me from playing madmen or criminals. That is the reason for and the function of an actor.”
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