File Under 2018 #75: Back to Burgundy


What it's about: Jean is the adult son of a French winemaker who escaped to Australia to start his own family and tend his own grape fields. With his father in poor health, Jean returns home to Burgundy. He isn't exactly welcomed back openly by his brother and sister, who have stayed through the pain of watching their mother and now father die. The three siblings not only need to put their past quibbles behind them, but now work together to secure their family business. A €500,000 inheritance tax on their farm house and grape fields is too steep for them to pay, so a decision has to be made. Can they bare to sell off the family's legacy? Jean has a similar decision: Will he again run away from his family for his responsibilities thousands of miles away?

Unorganized thoughts:

  • As an American with assumptions about wine made in France, Back to Burgundy does an interesting job playing with these preconceptions, though not perfectly. In a lot of ways, the film feels like an American farm drama -- not exactly an established genre, but the tropes of hard work, a connection to the Earth, etc. all easily come to mind.

  • Back to Burgundy is structured into alternating parts of family drama and wine-making process. Not as the filmmakers likely intended, I found the process much more compelling. It isn't overly complicated, I'm sure that more goes into the growing and picking of the grapes, but there is something pastoral about how the process is filmed. That said, it doesn't have a documentary feel, which could have been an interesting stylistic take, and I wish there was more to learn about the turning of grapes into wine.

  • On the other hand, there isn't much unique about the family strife drama. The film doesn't exposition itself through their history, which is probably a good thing even if it doesn't build much of the characters.

  • The setting is what gives the film and the family its flavor. The hard work we see the characters do in the fields connects them to the space and their family better than any of the arguments they have.

  • Still, there is a sense of privileged white problems that I couldn't quite get easily past. The characters are all so milquetoast -- one of the field workers directly calls them "bourgeois" which I take as the same. Back to Burgundy does a lot to show they are genuinely struggling with finances and family, but it can't clear the issue. I'm not exactly sure what the film could have done differently, if there is any way to set a drama in this idyllic place and make it primarily about financial struggle. Unfortunately, I just cared too little for the three leads and their problems.

  • Karidja Touré, who broke out in 2014 with Céline Sciamma's Girlhood, makes an appearance as a young woman who is hired to work in the fields. Jean takes interest in her [not in a romantic way] and they seem to be building to an interesting relationship. But then the character completely disappears after the first act. As Touré hasn't done much since Girlhood, it was really exciting to see her, but I wish it didn't completely waste her -- especially because this relationship could have led to an interesting spark that the film didn't really have otherwise.

  • I don't normally comment on movie music because it is far from my expertise -- I often don't even actively notice the music as I'm watching a film. I have to say that the music in Back to Burgundy is pretty bad. It was distracting in the quiet emotional moments and the montages in the field.

  • Hot take: stomping on grapes in the big barrels looks grotesque and I'd never want to do it.