Dir:Jonathon Nossiter. US-France. 2004 159mins
Somewherewithin Jonathan Nossiter's bloated, self-indulgent new documentary Mondovinothere may lurk a fascinating hour-long offering, perfectly suitable for a spoton cable TV, that explores the contemporary world of wine but one would be hardpressed to find it.
Thedirector of the genuinely affecting Sunday (1997) and the ambitious iffatally pretentious Signs And Wonders (2000) takes nearly threehours to tell what is, after all, a fairly well-known tale about the defeat ofthe devoted, individualistic artisan at the hands of a heartless corporationthat wants to standardise and brand all it touches in its greedy search formore profits. Rumours that the film in competition represents only a fractionof a 10-hour made-for-TV series chill the soul.
Mondovino addresses importantquestions such as globalisation, but handles them in a scattershot way that isnot very effective. Structurally, it takes the form of an essay, stringingtogether relevant quotes from different interviews, but no single argument isever properly sustained.
Toooften the director contents himself with scoring cheap political points at theexpense of powerful people who inevitably sound very stupid and self-centred inrevealing interviews and who, it must be admitted, generally end up trying tojustify the various fascist collaborations of their forebears.
Nossiter'scast of characters is unnecessarily huge, since they all pretty much seem toline up along a clear axis of good and evil, depending on whether you believein the importance of the land in creating a fine wine, or in thestandardisation of the manufacturing process, most notably through the use ofnew oak barrels. The arch villain of the piece is French wine consultant MichelRolland, a jolly, obnoxious purveyor of the gospel of wine standardisation in14 different countries, as he boasts more than once.
Thedirector makes much of his friendship with another unpleasant figure, RobertParker, an American who is the world's most famous wine critic. At one point,Parker claims in an interview with Nossiter that he has more influence than anycritic for the New York Times and brags that his nose and palate areinsured for $1m.
Nossiterdirected, shot and edited the film, a trifecta that was seen in the competitionlast year with Vincent Gallo's Brown Bunny. He also appears on camerathroughout, fiercely nodding his head while he shows off in at least (by mycount) four languages. He seems to havetaken the crusading Michael Moore for a model, but unlike Moore, there islittle reason for Nossiter to be on screen so frequently, since he almost neverfigures in the drama of the individual scenes.
Technicallyspeaking, it is all pure hand-held camera, and after watching the world this longthrough a jostling, endlessly refocusing and off-centre camera, one is morethan ready for a less stomach-churning approach, like a camera placed firmly ona tripod.
Nossiteralso has the annoying habit of focusing on workmen in the background or on frolickinganimals, rather than the subject of the interview (who drones on, out of focus)but this heavy-handed tic rarely reveals any insight.
Themusic chosen to accompany montages is meant to be carefree and perky, butmerely grates. For some reason, Nossiter also becomes obsessed with cataloguingthe dogs he meets throughout his long, long journey. Perhaps this motif wasmeant as a structuring device or as a trick to get laughs, but it works onneither level.
Atthe end, Nossiter does get an Italian wine store owner to admit that all winehas in fact come to taste the same. He then goes to Argentina where hejuxtaposes, on the one hand, the owners of a huge winery, who say, as if oncue, all the right fascist and racist things, with, on the other, a lowlyIndian man making wine in his backyard while struggling to live on $60 a month,who gives Nossiter a free bottle.
Afterinvesting all this time in Nossiter's product, though, viewers have a right toexpect an analysis, and a posing of choices, more nuanced than this.
Prodcos: Goatworks,Les Films de la Croisade
W'wide sales: Celluloid Dreams
Prods: Emmanuel Giraud, Jonathan Nossiter