Jérôme Le Maire’s Premiers Crus is a US-style, feelgood movie with a French twist. From the catchy jazz number which accompanies the opening credits to the stunning backdrop of the Burgundy wine-growing region, this film pulls out all the stops in its desire to please. Wine buffs will love the behind-the-scenes look at the French wine industry and the glimpse of the esoteric world of the wine critic. But the plot lacks the depth and character of a good vintage and is more soap opera than serious drama. Hampered by a clunky script full of platitudes, this tale of an errant son who returns home to save the family vineyard, lacks a note of originality. When a fine actor like Gérard Lanvin trots out phrases such as “on n’hérite pas d’une terre, on la mérite” (you don’t inherit the land, it has to be earned), there’s trouble ahead. Verdict – light-bodied with a smooth finish.
As a young man, Charlie Maréchal (Lespert) left the family wine business to pursue a career as a successful wine critic. Back home in Burgundy, his father (Lanvin) has all but abandoned the vineyard which is now on the verge of bankruptcy. Reluctantly Charlie agrees to return home to try and revive the business which has been in the family for generations and once again produce top quality wines. His father, no longer interested in helping to get the business back on its feet, spends more time on his boat than his vines and Charlie soon discovers it’s easier to grade a good wine than it is to make one.
Lespert is as often found behind the camera as in front these days and last year received numerous plaudits for directing the award-winning biopic of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent
starring Pierre Niney. He appears on autopilot here in a role which does little to stretch his undoubted acting talent. Granted, he does make a handsome lead opposite Alice Taglioni as Blanche, daughter of a rival vineyard family, and the slow-burn love story between the two is one of Premiers Crus’
more successful secondary plots. Award winning screenwriter Remy Bezancon co-wrote the script with Le Maire, the two previously worked together on Le Maire’s short film Les Brigands
and Le Maire had an acting role in Bezancon’s Ma Vie en l’Air
While debate rages in wine circles over modern-versus-traditional methods of wine production, Le Maire throws his hat into the ring with a clarion call for a back-to-basics approach to this ancient art. But the question remains – is anyone listening?