The old song “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” gets amusingly turned on its head in Saint Amour, a rollicking yet heartfelt comedy from France about an estranged father and son who find their lives changed after a most unusual road trip. Amour starts at an agricultural fair in Paris, as farmers from all over the country compete for recognition for their crops and animals. A rotund and grizzled Gerard Depardieu plays Jean, a widower who has been retired for five years but can’t resist tagging along with his son, Bruno, to show off his prize bull in hopes of winning the blue ribbon that has always eluded him.
Father and son clearly have a tradition of rubbing each other the wrong way, and Bruno soon skips off with his pal Thierry to conduct their annual “wine tour” – a sodden stagger around the fair’s many display tables where amiable vignerons pour out free samples of fine French wine. “I’m just a dung-covered hick,” wails a drunk and despairing Bruno after he’s deep in his cups: not only a flop at picking up women, he also fears that life is passing him by while all he does is submit to the mucky and backbreaking challenge of raising cows from dawn to dusk. In a fit of compassion Jean takes Bruno under his wing and decides that they will both go on a real wine tour – so they hire a hip young Parisian cabbie and set off on a whirlwind weekend cruise through Bordeaux, Burgundy, and other legendary wine regions of France.
The resulting journey is both droll and picaresque, as the three men slowly reveal their true selves in between comic misadventures, clumsy erotic dalliances, and a memorable sequence of flashbacks as Bruno explains, in candid and humiliating detail, the 10 stages of drunkenness. Despite keeping things mostly light and funny, the sometimes raucous and profane Amour also has a few poignant tricks up its sleeve, and a big, satisfying surprise at the end. The acting is fine indeed, but of course it is the great Depardieu who occupies the centre of the film with a marvelously tender performance as the gruff farmer who in truth is just a gentle, lumbering bear. Wine lovers will find Amour especially appealing, but anyone who appreciates the humanism of European cinema will want a full glassful of this intoxicating charmer.