For those more accustomed to the light touch and whimsical ways of director Cédric Kaplisch (“L’auberge Espagnole” and “Russian Dolls”), which is attributed to a big portion of his body of work, his latest film, “Back to Burgundy”, may seem a bit of a departure. But for the true fan familiar with his entire repertoire, then “Back to Burgundy” won’t be a complete surprise, reflecting aspects of films such as “Paris.” These two outliers have more emphasis on drama and family than comedy, fast edits and quirky characters. Distinguishing this current release even from “Paris” is the noticeable absence of his trademark intersecting characters and lives. For Burgundy, it’s all in the family. Three siblings are reunited when the youngest brother, Jean (Pio Marmai), returns home to the family vineyard in Burgundy to visit his ailing father. He left several years earlier, wanting nothing to do with the family business or with his father. Over the years, he instigated little contact with anyone, even opting not to return for his mother’s funeral. In his absence, his brother and sister worked side by side with their father to maintain the vineyards, producing quality wine with every vintage in their father’s tradition.
Soon after Jean visits his father at the hospital, the family patriarch dies, and it is unclear as to whether or not Jean got to say his goodbyes, make peace and get personal closure. What is clear is that although he misses his young son, he is not necessarily eager to return to his girlfriend who is running a vineyard in Australia. As a result, he stays for the next year in Burgundy, mending his fractured relationship with his siblings, Juliette (Anna Girardot) and Jeremie (Francois Civil), and helping to navigate lofty financial decisions regarding the family estate hit hard with inheritance taxes. Along the way, viewers get to experience the evolution of the sibling’s strained relationship, their adjustment to loss, and four seasons and two harvests on the vineyard. All could be a recipe for one depressing scene after another or a string of heated discussions, debating love, loss and money. Instead, Klapisch weaves a tight drama with touching scenes, lovingly laced with humor. He does so without getting melodramatic or sappy and he makes good use of the picturesque Burgundy landscape as backdrop. It is both rich and rugged, aptly portraying rolling hillsides dotted with vines and stone houses.
While the film’s premise of siblings struggling through estate issues after suffering the loss of a parent, may sound similar to another French drama in recent years – “Summer Hours” by Olivier Assayas – the comparisons end there. This is a smaller, more intimate drama, and although it is enjoyable and a laudable inclusion in Klapisch’s cannon, it’s not the masterpiece that “Summer Hours” is. That being said, this is a warm and beautiful must-see for fans of Klapisch, France and wine.