Gilles Legrand’s dynastic drama aims for the sweep of a sturdy 19th century novel, tidied up in the tradition of a Lillian Hellman ‘well-made’ play. On its own terms, it works pretty well, but ultimately lacks texture & verisimilitude, rural wine-country cinematography be damned, with characters who give up everything on their first appearance. At heart, a prodigal son tragedy, or rather, a prodigal surrogate son tragedy, it charts the imploding relationship of a gifted, but ruthless, if not despicable, grand seigneur widower wine baron, and the decent, underperforming son he baits to disappoint on cue. Enter the handsome, confident son of his longtime, long suffering estate manager. Back from a glamorous California gig to visit his ailing papa, he’s ready-made to fill the on-coming leadership void on the estate, displacing the real son. (Proving blood isn’t thicker than wine.) The plot and backstabbing don’t exactly sneak up on you, but do hold your interest in spite of relentlessly dour perfs and Legrand’s director’s chair gaffes; fittingly, if unintentionally, paralleling weaknesses of le vrai fils.
DOUBLE-BILL: Douglas Sirk’s great surrogate sibling rivalry pic, WRITTEN ON THE WIND/’56, is often called to mind though we’re closer to underrated land sagas of the period like Henry King’s winemaking THIS EARTH IS MINE/’59 or Delmer Daves’ tobacco farming PARRISH/’61.