The tail-end of 2004 saw a rare event when not one, but two movies with a strong wine theme were released in the UK (and now the USA and rest of Europe too).
This unprecedented focus on wine on the silver screen roused a lot of attention amongst wine-lovers, and a great deal of pleasure when the films turned out to have plenty of merit in their own right.
These two movies couldn't be more different: Sideways is Hollywood director Alexander Payne's fictional account of the emotional and physical journey of two friends, played out against a background of wine and a tour through the Californian vineyards; Mondovino is Jonathan Nossiter's hand-made documentary which looks at globalisation, specifically with respect to the wine business and a handful of its super-influential figures.
Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2004. Director: Alexander Payne
|Sideways is a story with a strong message; essentially it is the tale of recently divorced and terminally unsuccessful novelist
Miles (beautifully played by the dead-pan Paul Giamatti) who takes buddy Jack on one last road-trip before his imminent wedding. There is a huge enjoyment factor as the tale unfolds, the pair heading off to tour the wineries of
Santa Barbara, play golf and indulge in some male-bonding. Miles is the passionate wine nut, earnestly discussing the finer points of malolactic fermentation with a slightly non-plussed Jack within 10 minutes of their
journey beginning, and more than a little put out when he learns that Jack has his own plans, and his own agenda for the trip that is not quite so pure.
The difference in attitudes that will lead to massive tensions between the pair is summed up in one early scene, when party animal Jack reaches down for a bottle of 1992 Byron sparkling Pinot Noir on the floor of their car, and
cracks open the lukewarm fizz to swig on the journey, much to Mile's horror and anguish.
THINKfilm, 2004. Dir: Jonathan Nossiter
|Mondovino is a whole different ball-game. Nossiter is a filmmaker with a good track record, but one who also lists "sommelier, consultant, and wine writer" on his C.V.
Filmed across three continents, in five languages, over a three-year period, Mondovino is cut from similar cloth as one of Michael Moore's shambolically sharp film documentaries, or Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me.
It is a political film with an agenda, though unlike Moore or Spurlock, Nossiter tries to present both sides of the argument. But whilst leading global figures are given their chance to explain and justify what they do, some very
subtle cutaway shots and juxtaposition of interviews consistently undermines their arguments.
Now cut from three hours to just over two, this film still feels slightly over-long to me, or perhaps not overlong, but just lacking a bit of narrative structure. The themes are constant - globalisation, big fish swallowing little fish, the lust for profit overpowering tradition and quality - but though these themes are woven throughout the film, there is a lack of cohesion that made the non-wine-geeks in my party wriggle in their seats and check their watches towards the end.