Film Review: Back to Burgundy

Back to Burgundy is an amiable, well-acted drama from French co-writer/co-producer/director/extra-in-the-background Cédric Klapisch. It plays like equal parts heartfelt character drama, touching family saga, contrived commercial compromise and Gallic soap opera.

The prolific Klapisch is best-known internationally for his ‘Spanish Apartment Trilogy’ (usually translated as The Spanish Apartment, Russian Dolls and Chinese Puzzle), and this, like those films, features an attractive cast and a calculatedly upbeat and feel-good atmosphere, as if all the bad stuff here will just go away if we hug each other a lot and chug plenty of wine. Maybe he has a point?

Jean (Pio Marmaï) intermittently narrates and begins by briskly discussing a little of his troubled youth, his arguments with his father and his need to get away from the family winery estate in scenic Burgundy, before we then see him returning home 10 years later (and a little hairier too). Dad is seriously ill and Jean prepares for the worst as he hasn’t been in contact with anyone in the family for years, and while his forgiving sister Juliette (Ana Girardot) is overjoyed to see him, he’s immediately drawn into his first big fight with snarky brother Jérémie (François Civil).

After some moody strolls in the sunshine, a fair bit of intense, window-staring brooding and the like, Dad dies offscreen and the three siblings are forced to consider what they’re going to do next. Sell the business and/or the land and go and live in Paris? Or, in Jean’s case, return to the partner and wine business he apparently has far away in Australia?

Amid all the expected arguments, they also have to get started on what might be the remaining family’s final harvest. To the tune of what sounds like a techno version of a French accordion classic, we watch a seemingly endless sequence where good-looking young sorts turn up to pick grapes and there’s much kidding around, mocking of authority, weeping, flirting, partying and heavy-duty boozing.

Klapisch loves his characters and Pio, Ana and François are all pretty good. Yet the tone here is a bit all over the place and the running time balloons out to almost two hours, meaning that the light touch needed to make this nice, familiar story work is eventually lost and it starts to lumber before the final act. And really, why watch this rather privileged bunch of French siblings yell at each other when you could just as easily have a screaming match with your own family and friends?

Rated M. Back to Burgundy is in cinemas now.

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