Oh give me land, lots of land under starry skies above


DECISIONS, decisions: Juliette (Ana Girardot), Marcel (Jean-Marc Roulot, Jean (Pio Marmai) and Jeremie (Francois Civil) set a harvest date. Photograph courtesy

HOW WOULD YOU explain your dodgy life choices to your 10-year-old self? This is one of the motifs that is intelligently threaded through the rich and magnificent text of Cédric Klapisch’s Back to Burgundy, at Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau. But it’s not the element that will grab you by your soul and leave you wishing to sit through the next screening of the very same film, and then to return tomorrow, to watch it again. That magic ingredient is the cinematography and how wonderfully the land in all its sameness and difference, as a vessel for so many aspirations and values, is celebrated. That landscape will never leave you.

And armed with that landscape from the very first seconds of the film, you find yourself willing to forgive any errors in the rest of the work. Curiously, however, you will be challenged quite robustly to find errors in this beautiful tale of family and loss, of love and a wine farm. There are literally one or two filmic moments that jar.

More than that, this work is astoundingly finely cast: and the slippage between present day and some time in the past is achieved with simplicity and clarity. The one anomaly in the casting is Alicia (Maria Valverde), the Australian girlfriend, whose accent is so French, her veracity is questioned.

It’s the tale of three children who were raised on a wine farm in Burgundy. All the elements of what it means to grow up on a farm are touched on, from the economic issues, right the way through to those of childhood loneliness and inheritance, at the end of the day.

The story is cast like a mythic narrative, taking the hero, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who is the eldest son, through the complexity of his family position, the love and hate, the animosity and confusion that surrounds who he is, or who he thinks he is. It’s about picking up the pieces of farm in the wake of the loss of parents, and what the land means to people who have grown up with its passing seasons.

And then, there is Ana Girardot in the role of Juliette, the sister. This young actress embodies exactly what Los Angeles-based critic Mick LaSalle writes about in his 2012 book The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood can learn from French Actresses. He describes French actresses who exude a beauty that doesn’t need the crass touching up that Hollywood actress get. These women are unadorned in their gorgeousness and immensely real and strong as human beings. You want to drink up the fresh frankness of Girardot’s Juliette, in all her fierce bravado, how she is territorially threatened by her male siblings and how she makes peace with her position in the world.

The story has all the clichés of a classic hero narrative: and you will laugh and cry on cue as things unfold, as you know they must. But placing a tale of family against a backdrop of wine-making and a landscape of classic vineyards offers a touch of genius in this film that takes it so much further. After watching it, you will believe you know how to recognise the subtle nuances in wine tasting, as you will feel that you know just the moment that the grapes need to be harvested, just by how they taste. The crackle of fire at the end of the harvest, and the banter of young field workers makes for a complete picture that is informed and rich, delicate and all-consuming.

Beautifully constructed, this paean to the weather, ends as it begins. The texture of the landscape filmed is as satisfying as the flow of the story, and the characters, evoking the grit and feel of Emile Zola’s classic French novel The Earth, reflect a cross-pollination of values, from the over-possessive parents-in-law, Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) and Chantal (Florence Pernel) to the reliable farm hand Marcel (Jean-Marc Roulot), who has seen many a harvest.

This is one of those films that simply deserves prizes and classic status. It brings together everything necessary, with no fuss or fanfare.

  • Back to Burgundy is directed by Cédric Klapisch and features a cast headed by Xavier Alcan, Jean-Chistopher Barro, Michel Baudoin, Dune Baudoin, Dany Bernollin, Raymond Blailock, François-Xavier ‘Fixi’ Bossard, Jean-Steve Bouf, Eric Bougnon, Fanny Capretta, Éric Caravaca, Noé Charles, François Civil, Yamée Couture, Antoine Croset, Alice de Germay, Alix de Montille, Arthur de Villepin, Didier Dubuisson, Charlène Feres, Ana Girardot, Sarah Grappin, Tewfik Jallab, Juliette Joblot, Emile Klapisch, Julie Leflaive, Jean-Michel Lesoeur, Hervé Mahieux, Pio Marmaï, Christophe Minck, Pierre Morey, Alan Morgoev, Sean O’Gara-Micol, Florence Pernel, Bruno Raffaelli, Ferdinand Règent, Jean-Marc Roulot, Léonce Roulot, Camille Soto, Marina Tomé, Karidja Touré, Hugo Soyer, Maria Valverde and Jean-Marie Winling. It is written by Cédric Klapisch and Santiago Amigorena with Jean-Marc Roulot. Produced by Cédric Klapisch and Bruno Levy, it features creative input by Loïc Dury and Christophe Minck (music), Alexis Kavyrchine (cinematography), Anne-Sophie Bion (editing), Constance Demontoy (casting), Marie Cheminal (production design) and Anne Schotte (costumes). Release date, Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau: July 20 2018.

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