The Vintner's Luck -- Film Review

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It's difficult to believe that the same director who made the simple and affecting "Whale Rider" in 2002 and the underrated "North Country" in 2005, is responsible for "The Vintner's Luck," an overblown work of amazing silliness. A melodrama wrapped in a historical costume drama, whose plot revolves around the regular appearance of an angel -- replete with gigantic flapping wings -- this film stands little chance of commercial release in any territory beyond its own native New Zealand. Given the current, though waning craze for all things angelic, however, it may make back some of its obviously costly budget on television sales.

The storytelling is so confused here that for the longest time we have no idea what century nor what country the film takes place in, especially given the fact that half of the actors have a French accent and the other half a British one. (Ah, the perils of co-production!) The main character goes off to war, where he almost freezes to death, but we have no idea whom he is fighting for or against. Thanks to various scraps of dialogue meaningfully tossed off through the overlong running time, however, we gradually piece together that we're in early 19th century France.

Sobran Jodeau (Jeremie Renier, a regular in the films of the Dardenne brothers) is a poor peasant with dreams of producing the best wine in the world. Toward that end he makes a pact with a very beautiful angel who babbles cliches about terror, without using the word. According to his teachings, which Sobran eagerly drinks in, you can taste the vintner's emotional state and even his thoughts in the wine he produces. One impromptu wine tasting with the angel results in the verdict that "the wine tastes of sorrow, regret, and guilt." In the meantime, Sobran marries and has a passel of kids. The lord of the manor dies, and his lovely heir Aurora arrives on the scene, and moved by his passion for wine-making (and his good looks), she convinces Sobran to go into business with her. Sobran meets the angel on the same day every year through the course of his life for a quick round-up of the past and advice about the future.

Lots of stuff happens, most of it melodramatic (breast cancer, tuberculosis -- replete with standard-issue cough-induced blood -- and a third disease that takes Sobran's beloved daughter away; storms and disease that wreck the crop; and so on). Despite all the many turns of events, however, the film seems plodding and slow. The angel finally confesses that he is also a devil, since all of life is composed of opposites. When Sobran wrestles with the angel (a la Jacob in the Bible), the film reaches a level of ridiculousness that is hard to believe, though even that level is surpassed when the angel's wings are surgically removed so that he can become human. Not helping things is that this aspect of the story is so incredibly murky that it defies understanding, let alone summary.

It's a shame that the storytelling is such a shambles, because the production values in evidence are high, though the constantly fidgeting camera is annoying and out of place in a film set two hundred years ago. The novel upon which the film is based could very well be a masterpiece, but angels, alas, are a lot more convincing as words than as characters in a movie.

Production Companies: Ascension Film, Kortex Acajou Films
Cast: Jeremie Renier, Gaspard Ulliel, Vera Farmiga, Keisha Castle-Hughes
Director: Niki Caro
Screenwriter: Joan Scheckel, Niki Caro, based on the novel by Elizabeth Knox
Producers: Robin Laing, Ludi Boeken, Pascal Judelewicz, Niki Caro, Laurie Parker
Executive producers: Chica Benadava, Jeremy Burdek, Masahuru Inaba, Nadia Khamlichi, Adrian Politowski
Director of photography: Denis Lenoir
Production designer: Grant Major
Music: Antonio Pinto
Editor: David Coulson
Sales: NZ Film
No rating, 126 minutes
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