"Back to Burgundy," a lushly photographed family drama set in the famous French wine region, dwells, pleasantly, on the winemaking process, as the capable ensemble cast navigates domestic tensions. But the film's central metaphor — life is like wine — is an overripe one.
Jean (Pio Marmaï), the eldest of three siblings from a winemaking family, has walked away from the family business, leaving Burgundy 10 years ago for Australia, where he produces wine with his girlfriend. As the film opens, Jean has returned home to visit his dying father and reconnect with his sister and brother (Ana Girardot and François Civil). After their father dies — and the three are faced with a huge inheritance tax — they must make a difficult choice: keep making wine, as the family has for generations, or — the more lucrative option — sell off the land.
This conflict between tradition and change, between family and money, exposes old resentments. Just as each sibling has a different opinion about the best time to harvest grapes, for example, each one also harbors the memory of a personal slight — by one another or, in the case of Jean, by his father.
In an effort to present as authentic a picture as possible, director Cédric Klapisch ("L'Auberge Espagnole") filmed "Burgundy" over the course of four distinct seasons, shooting on location and consulting with Jean-Marc Roulot (a Burgundy winemaker and actor who appears in the film as the family's estate manager). For most of the movie, Klapisch deftly choreographs the human drama.
Throughout the unhurried tale, "Burgundy" subtly reinforces the notion that a fine wine can only reveal itself after a slow process of aging (unlike the bottles that Jean and his girlfriend rush to market back in Australia). Unfortunately, the screenplay, which Klapisch wrote with Santiago Amigorena and Roulot, ignores its own advice: The film's narrative arc is derailed when Jean delivers this too-on-the-nose message to his girlfriend: "Love is like wine. It needs time. It has to ferment."
If "Back to Burgundy" were a wine, I'd say it has a complex flavor profile but an overly aggressive finish. To put it in terms that even a mass-market vintner might understand, it's a bottle that has been served before its time.
"Back to Burgundy" — 2.5 stars
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:47
Opens: Friday at the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport Ave., www.musicboxtheatre.com. In English, French and Spanish with English subtitles.