New film ‘Back to Burgundy’ explores problems of inheritance

A new film has been released that follows three siblings who inherit their father’s vineyard in Burgundy and are immediately faced with the choice of continuing their father’s legacy or selling up and netting a fortune.

A still from the film featuring: Jean (Pio Marmaï), Juliette (Ana Girardot), Marcel (Jean-Marc Roulot) and Jérémie (François Civil).

Ce Qui Nous Lie’ (‘That Which Binds Us’) was released in France in June but has now been given a limited UK release under the name ‘Back to Burgundy’ – a distinctly odd choice when the English translation of the French is, first of all, better and captures the essence of the story more completely as well.

The film centres on three siblings: Jean, Juliette and Jérémie, who are reunited after the death of their father just before the harvest and inheritance of his vineyard.

Exactly where this vineyard is isn’t clear from the various reviews and descriptions of the film out there but the trailer shows the area around the hill of Corton quite prominently so it’s presumably on some prime land in the Côte d’Or at least.

Presumably, however, where the vineyard is located is less important than the human drama around it.

Jean, the eldest, up and left one day 10 years previously, seeking to escape his father and the pressure of filial and familial duty that weighed upon him, and ended up in Australia where he has married and started his own winery; but his father’s illness has drawn him back.

Juliette has been running the estate during their father’s illness, helped along by an old family friend, Marcel, who is played by real-life winemaker (in Meursault) Jean-Marc Roulot. Roulot also apparently helped with the script and advised on the film.

Jérémie meanwhile has married into a powerful winemaking family and is being bullied by his over-bearing father-in-law who clearly doesn’t think much of him.

The three siblings, reunited, are then faced with the dilemma of making a go of the estate and recapturing their shared love of viticulture and wine or selling the estate off to pay the inheritance bill of €500,000.

The sale would net them some €6 million they are advised which would leave them cash-rich but, as the Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw writes: “With a crippling sense of guilt for having abandoned their inheritance and dishonoured the rich mysteries of wine.”

The film is directed by Cédric Klapisch (‘Auberges Espagnoles’, ‘Paris’) and unfortunately has garnered some rather mixed reviews.

Bradshaw gave it two out of five stars calling it a “rather sentimental, soft-edged film,” and “sweet but unsatisfying.” The Hollywood Reporter meanwhile says it tends to the maudlin at times with childhood flashbacks but is technically “silky smooth” and gorgeously shot. Its reception is France was similarly mixed but not disastrous by any means.

It currently holds a 7.1/10 rating on IMDb, a 4/5 at AlloCiné and 6.9/10 from SensCritique.

Regardless of its merits as a piece of filmmaking, the film does appear to have at its core a very real problem that is increasingly facing Burgundian and other French winemakers – spiralling land costs and subsequent inheritance struggles, which are forcing many families to sell their domaines.

For a long time Burgundy appears to have been extraordinarily resilient to this pressure but this year alone the (Corton-based) Domaine Bonneau-Martray and Domaine Jayer-Gilles have been sold to foreign buyers, an American and a Swiss respectively.

The input of Roulot is no doubt evident here, as he is no doubt well aware of the problem. Added dramatic bite might have been added if one or more of the siblings had no interest at all in winemaking and wanted their cut of the money from a sale, which they then pressure the other siblings towards. This situation too is unfortunately all too common due to France’s inheritance laws and the wealth on which many families now sit. It also plays into another, hidden, aspect of life that exists among Burgundy’s beautiful rolling landscape – occasionally vicious family politics.

It seems the film ends with everything resolved and the issue of inheritance flirted with but conveniently side-stepped. Nearly every film that deals with wine and vineyards eventually veers towards the unrelentingly positive, reinforcing the view that life among the vines is just about the most bucolic and carefree of existences. Nowhere is this more true than in France where wine and the sense of its place in the country’s ‘patrimoine‘ is near sacred and directors and writers prefer to focus on the sun-dappled visuals and allegorical cycles of growth and rebirth offered by settings such as vineyards.

Not that this is an entirely untrue vision of viticulture either, it’s just that it’s not always how things work out. Winemakers can battle drug and alcohol addiction, some commit suicide, they can suffer terrible accidents at work, their livelihoods can be destroyed by bad harvests, here and there children show no interest in continuing the family legacy and sometimes financial pressures, especially death duties and inheritance tax, mean families are forced to divest themselves of the land and life they love so much.

Without being too grindingly pessimistic, perhaps a finale where the estate is sold to Jérémie’s father-in-law or a foreign investor and the family split apart by the experience would have left for an undeniably sadder but ultimately more thought-provoking finish and more hard-hitting commentary on the potential reality of vineyard ownership in Burgundy (and elsewhere) today.

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