Mondovino

on March 23, 2005 by Sheri Linden
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"Mondovino" is a portrait of the international wine industry as it hurtles headlong into the 21st century, leaving behind ancient traditions that have, in the ardent views of some of the commentators here, defined whole civilizations. The film assumes viewers' basic knowledge of viniculture, or at least an interest in wine. But even someone who's never imbibed the grape will find an engaging and provocative (if overlong) documentary whose political concerns extend far beyond a beverage. This is an eloquent and profound multi-voiced rant against the homogenizing, deadening effects of corporate globalization.

The film makes clear that winemaking, a unique blend of agriculture, business and art, attracts passionate individuals. Traveling in France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and the U.S., the impressively multilingual Nossiter engages his interview subjects in penetrating conversations about Old World values, encroaching conglomerates, and the poetry of coaxing complex flavors from the vines. Among the heroes of the piece is the wonderfully opinionated Hubert de Montille, owner of a small winery in Volnay, Burgundy, who is a fierce and articulate opponent of what he calls "monolithic thinking." He disdains the growing preference for faster-maturing California-style wines and generic flavors like new oak and vanilla, with its disregard for all-important terroir--the specific soil and weather conditions that give a wine its personality.

Leading the charge in the standardization of winemaking is superstar wine consultant Michel Rolland, whose high-end clients in 12 countries range from small Napa spreads to huge companies with marketing execs and hovering press attach├ęs (cf. the tourist-attraction winery Frass Canyon in "Sideways"). The personable Bordeaux-based Rolland, who laughs way too much, frequently advises growers to "micro-oxygenate" while his driver waits outside. He also views a recent successful fight against California-based Mondavi's bid to buy vineyards in southern France as proof that the locals are "peasants."

About an hour and a half in, "Mondovino" reaches saturation point, repeating points it's already made. Nossiter (whose features include "Sunday" and "Signs & Wonders") could have crafted a more "chiseled" pour--in keeping with the preference of the outspoken M. de Montille. But the docu's energy revives, moving on to intrigue and double-dealing in Tuscany and closing with a delightful and poignant visit to an Argentine man who makes $60 a month from the vines he inherited. He eagerly presents Nossiter with a bottle of his handcrafted wine. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter. Produced by Jonathan Nossiter and Emmanuel Giraud. A ThinkFilm release. Documentary. English-, French-, Italian-, Spanish- and Portuguese-language; subtitled. Rated PG-13 for brief pin-up nudity. Running time: 136 min

Tags: Directed by Jonathan Nossiter, Produced by Jonathan Nossiter and Emmanuel Giraud, ThinkFilm, Documentary
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