I know scarcely any French at all and most of what I do know, I learned from movies or jokes.  I was curious, of course, when I saw a movie about French siblings coming to grips with their lapsed relationships so they could deal with the vineyard their father had left them in his will. The English title is “Return to Burgundy.” Yeah, OK. Except that Jean is the only one who isn’t already living in Burgundy. The French title is Ce qui nous lie.
So what does that mean and how would a non-French speaker find out? Here are some possibilities, thanks to an online translation service.
- ce qui nous lie means “we should seek common ground.”
- ce qui nous lie means “how we are linked.”
- ce qui nous lie means “what binds us together.”
- ce qui nous lie means “what brings us together.”
- ce qui nous lie means “what ties us all together.”
I like all those better than Back to Burgundy. Here’s a mini-overview from Rotten Tomatoes:
As four seasons and two harvests go by, Jean, Juliette, and Jérémie have to learn to reinvent their relationship and trust in each other as they work to preserve the land that ties them together.
In that clip, you see why “common ground” needs to be at least hinted at. Their father has left the domain to them collectively, to the daughter and the two sons. The domain is, in fact and in law, their “common ground.” But it is also “what brings us together” because the three were not together in any sense, even the physical sense, before their father died. And the domain is also “what binds us together.” That is the project they have in the story the film tells and it is the achievement they have made by the end.
Nice title, huh? Back to Burgundy Huhn-uh.
Jean, the oldest (center), has been out of touch with the family for ten years. Letters and phone calls have not worked. Juliet and Jeremie have been living in the same area, but have had no meaningful contact with each other. They are like a circuit that cannot be completed without Jean and Jean is in Australia, growing his own grapes.
There are three subplots as I see it and they are deeply and essentially interrelated. The first is being free enough of the past to show up at the table as a whole self ready to do what is best for all. Jean lives in Australia. He has a son a vineyard, and a woman he loves. Sometimes. Neither party to that relationship is willing to commit to the other and without that, Jean is not free to come to the table as fully himself.
Juliette has stayed home and continued…kind of…to grow grapes and make wine on her father’s domain. She’s keeping the lights on but she’s not making decisions. She is…you know…a girl. She may be the most talented of the three—the flashbacks suggest that—but she is…you know…a girl, and she is unsure of her own judgments. She can’t come to the table unless she gets loose from that.
Jérémie, the youngest, is in the process of marrying into another winemaking family. He and his significant other have a son and life in the shadow of a bullying father and an sweet mother who treats the two as if they were minor children. Jérémie’s future is being planned out by his lady friend’s father, who thinks Jérémie is a talentless wimp. He needs to find some backbone if he is going to be a person at all and if he doesn’t get that done, he can’t show up at the table with his siblings.
If they are not all three at the table, the current doesn’t flow and the decision doesn’t get made.
The second subplot is all about the grapes. The movie uses the estate of actor Jean-Marc Roulot as the setting and we see an entire season of grapes from nearly ready to pick in Year 1 to nearly ready to pick in Year 2. The movie is set in the Côte de Beaune section (yellow on the map). Director Cedric Klapisch spends a good deal of time on the mechanics of caring for the vines, possibly because he spent some time in the fields working the vines himself in preparation for the movie. We see the decision about when to pick (twice) and how much of the harvest to de-stem.  We see every step. And when the second round begins with the instructions to the harvesters, we hear some of the same lines used and it feels familiar.
Since we see the processes so intricately, there is room for other questions to be placed. Do we want to make the same kind of wine Dad made? Did he play it too safe? Did he make a safe and comfortable wine? Do we, now that we can choose, want to make an edgier wine; something more daring? These don’t seem like abstract questions by the time we get around he hearing them, because we have seen close up the decisions that would have to be made to make an “edgier” wine.
The third subplot is about the decision itself: what shall be done with the domain, given that all three must agree? The law does not require three whole people to make this decision, but the narrative does. Juliette is going to have to find a way to claim authority for her own vision for the domain. Jérémie is going to have to resist his girlfriend’s father and move out from under the parents’ constant surveillance. Jean is going to have to settle things with his girlfriend and commit himself to several choices, none of them easy. Burgundy, with his siblings, or Australia with his girlfriend and their son. How can the finances be worked so that the domain stays in the family, but he still has enough to service his own mortgage in Australia.
When we see them come to the decision—the idea actually came from Jean’s girlfriend—we can only applaud it. It isn’t rocket science, so far as the financial part goes, but all five of the young people—the three siblings, plus the two girlfriends—have to do some growing up to make a simple, easy, effective, and fully collegial choice.
The film begins with the adult Jean walking along on the road toward the domain. We don’t know who he is, but he looks grim. It ends, with Jean walking that same road back to town, but now he is at peace and now we know him and it is impossible not to wish him well.
 For instance, I will never forget that the French word for “egg” is oeuf because one of the characters in The West Wing told this joke. Why do the French eat only one egg for breakfast? Answer: Because in France, one egg is an oeuf.” That’s supposed to sound like the English, “enough.” Things like that are the sources of my French. That and well-known and probably apocryphal political sayings like, L’Etat? C’est moi.
 I have no idea at all what that means, but it comes up in the conversation twice.