Cinema Signal:

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

. "Mondovino"

More is less in this vineyard of excess. Documentarian Jonathan Nossiter would have been well advised not to use every frame of his extensive interview footage from seven countries as though they were perfect grapes.

Nassiter, described as a trained sommelier, wine writer and oenophile proves it by his obvious access to some of the biggest names in the international wine industry as well as to the virtually unknown proprieters of tiny boutique domains and appellations. In tracking these folks down for interviews, Nossiter builds on a thesis that the world of wine is undergoing crucial changes. Tradition, he will suggest, is colliding with commerce, though it might be more to the point that traditional commerce has been overtaken by the modern commerce of the conglomerate.

In any event, the issue is articulated by a somewhat unknown cast of characters who, though rarely in the public eye, have no problem pontificating on winemaking, wine marketing, competitive forces and influences and the power of a good rating for Nassiter's camera.

The cast includes Michel Rolland, a crucial element in the industry as wine consultant around the wine making globe, the De Montille family headed by father Hubert, Robert, Michael and Tim Mondavi, the everpresent elephants in the wine economy closet who have turned into fearsome overlords, the Frescobaldi family of Florence, Italy, in business with the Mondavis, the Antinoris, the Etcharts, the co-CEOs of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in Bordeaux, and others who are either in business with or intimidated by the Mondavis, including the boutique landowners hanging onto family honor.

Then, of course, there is the master trendmaker of them all, Robert Parker, wine critic for his Wine Advocate magazine that has the power, with a 90+ rating to determine the next stars of the vintage or, with lesser scores, to filter out the posers and losers. He is a figure of greater significance to these many vineyards and owners than they will admit, and he'll be the first to tell you so. Critic James Suckling of "Wine Spectator Magazine" also plays a role in the court of ratings.

But, with all the references to wine style, "terroir" or the importance of the soil, the culture within each vineyard, there's little on actual winemaking. When Alix De Montille accuses her father Robert of taking a harsher approach to his wines than she prefers, she mentions acid content. But the words "sugar" and "tannin," "skins" and "sulfides," prime balancing elements that determine a winemaker's decisions and vinicultural methodology pass no lips here.

Worst of all (after length and omission), is the camerawork. The professionalism of the subjects is in bothersome contrast to the sheer amateurism of the jiggly, zoomy, dizzying lenswork -- about the worst I've seen in a distributed film.

Nossiter seems to be on an intimate level with most of his interview subjects, which is a highly positive factor. But as though to honor his relationships, he seem more determined not to betray than to fully reveal or expose in a documentary. The value of his approach is in introducing us to people in the business whom we don't usually get to see. They talk mostly about commercial competition and issues of survival. Soul and dedication are repeated so much you'd think some of these people perceive doubts about it.

Interesting to a wine lover as the film may be for what it does provide, this "commerce of wine" roundup is not likely to send anyone home with a greater appreciation for the miracle of fermentation than that which they already possess.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Robert De Monville, vineyard owner
Camera framing that aims high

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