Before diving into this review of “Back to Burgundy“, I have to set the stage as to how I came at this film. You see, I happen to love the films by this French film director, Cédric Klapisch because as an American, my real introduction to Europe was through the lens of his work.
The very first trip I ever took to Europe was in 2003 where I visited London and Paris (set the bar low and you’ll be happy by how far you clear it.) While in London I went to watch a film at the Regent Street Theatre and upon arrival was told that it wasn’t screening that night but they were holding the advanced screening of a brand new film called, “Pot Luck” (the UK title) or more appropriately, “L’Auberge Espagnole” (the original French title.) I had no idea what that was, but it was free and I figured I had little to lose as the theater served beer.
What I ended up seeing was the soul of incredibly hip Barcelona captured through the eyes of various exchange students from around Europe, sharing a very messy and true to the saying, “Spanish Apartment” (the US title). This film also contains one of cinema’s finest scenes where a very drunk, younger English brother dry heaves in the streets of the Gothic Quarter as everyone else is drunkenly singing “No Woman No Cry” naturally strummed by a token and very on-point American (yes, we all travel with guitars.)
I followed along in the series and watched the progression of these characters in, “Russian Dolls” (“Les poupées russes”) and more recently, “Chinese Puzzle” (“Casse-tête chinois”). I mention all of this because, picking up on his general tropes of characters at a crossroads in life, problematic family relationships, and overthinking the future come into play in “Back to Burgundy”–and I loved it.
If you’re into wine and especially if you’re into Burgundy, in my humble opinion this film is a must-see. The region is shot beautifully and spans an entire year so you get to see harvest in action as well as all the steps in-between, which is a joy to see, and it’s shot with light hand that still makes for wonderful depth. For instance, an early shot of the siblings popping up out of a sea of green vines where they’re tasting grapes just jumped out of the screen with ease.
I have to say that I liked it a great deal more than the pointedly-named documentary “A Year in Burgundy“. This film is often touted as being one of “the best” about Burgundy but to me, it progressed like a lesser National Geographic special that would have been aired when no one was sure to be watching television.
I think “Back to Burgundy” was somewhat overlooked when it came out two years ago–although no Klapisch film has ever had a blockbuster release in Anglophone theaters. Not realizing it was his film, I’ll fully admit that various reviews didn’t really fire me up to watch it. They generally focused upon the theme of, “three siblings in Burgundy have to deal with French inheritance laws.” That really doesn’t sound appealing, even if it’s in Burgundy and the film delves quite deeply into the issues facing Burgundy wineries at the moment.
While it’s slow moving, there is an intentional and deliberate pacing to the film as the siblings contend with the heaviness of their father dying just before harvest. Some people took issue with this slow pace as being “too French” or “auteur” but I found it to be perfect as you pass through the seasons, both with the feasting and drudgery of everyday life. Capturing the passage of time on film is even harder than making Jason Schwartzman tolerable so I take my hat off to Klapisch in how you really feel the depth of all that has happened in a year, with all the characters growing and maturing by the end of it. This is really one of his strengths as, despite their youth, you saw the same thing come to pass in “l’Auberge Espangole”.
But also in a typical touch by Klapisch, there are silly moments like when the two brothers are watching one of their fathers in-law gesticulating around the vineyards with grandness and they narrate over him, “Yes, and there, between those two trees, we will build an airport! An this mountain, we will move it closer to the chateau!”
The film is set in the well-known wine village of Pommard and somewhat shockingly for wine geeks too used to artistic licenses, all the wine details are correct. Clearly someone who knew the region well had a part in the script. But it’s not just droll details being peeled away and dished up to the viewer. When they talk about vineyards like Les Rugiens, it’s because they have part of it and have to decide whether they sell it to stay afloat. But don’t worry if you want to watch this with a partner who isn’t a wine geek as again, just enough information is given to paint a sense of place but not overwhelm in a never-ending, smartass sommelier lecture.
I realize that one other reason the film may have been overlooked was the name. “Back to Burgundy” is quite lame when “Ce qui nous lie” means, “That which binds us”. This title is so, so much more fitting for plot of the film given that the three siblings are just stuck with something great and part of their legacy, yet are unable to really move forward with it.
It should be a crime against humanity to translate film names in such a poor manner. If you don’t believe me, look no further than “L’Auberge Espangole’ which, for the “international market” was called, “Euro Pudding” or in Greek, “Euroflirt”. Christ.
So, “Back to Burgundy”, a film with a rather shabby name that does a splendid job of not just showing Burgundy, but also telling a human story full of drama, humor, and the life of a winemaker.
Did it make me want to drink wine while watching it? From start to finish as any good wine film should.
For something that also deals with family and wine, but yet didn’t quite work, check out this review of Uncorked.