Thursday, May 19, 2005

“Mondovino,” a globe-trotting survey of the wine industry, whose prospects seem bullish despite pockets of discontent among traditional vintners, especially in France, may squander a golden opportunity to ride the cinematic coattails of “Sideways.”

In the wake of the fictional movie’s entertaining update on wine snobbery in Southern California, a documentary feature that covered business developments and conflicts in other regions — from Europe to Northern California to Latin America — might have been a clever and edifying follow-up.

Although “Mondovino” does seem well-connected and informative in several respects, it makes extended viewing an ordeal by insisting on an almost unwatchable form of drifting-camera presentation. The director, Jonathan Nossiter, seems to do most of his own videography while conversing with various people who have a professional and cultural stake in wine cultivation.

Maintaining a stable frame and perspective in conversational exchanges seems to bore him. As long as there’s anything else in the room to justify a clumsy, lunging pan — floral arrangements, pets, family photos — he’s on top of it.

Restless in the study or drawing room, Mr. Nossiter also lacks an eye for landscapes, definitely an inconvenience with this subject matter. Offhand, there doesn’t seem to be anything except vanity preventing the engagement of an adequate cinematographer. Alex Gibney recently demonstrated the wisdom of such a procedure in “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”

A former sommelier before he turned to filmmaking, Mr. Nossiter must possess one of the more unusual resumes in the history of the medium. But the advantages that ought to derive from his familiarity with the wine-growing insiders and other camera subjects are systematically diminished by his inability to get through a sequence with attractive, stable compositions.

Nevertheless, there is considerable human-interest value to be had by encountering several personalities with major heritages or reputations to protect in the wine industry. These range from an elderly, acerbic vintner from the Languedoc region, Aime Guibert, to the influential critic Robert Parker, who resides in Monkton, Md. when not traveling the world to pass judgment on the fruit of the grape.

Mr. Guibert is the peerless curmudgeon of the collection. Mass-produced wines offend him so deeply that he pronounces a plague on more than the vine. “Wine is dead,” he reflects. “And not just wine. Fruits and cheeses.” Adieu, France.

The movie also spends considerable time absorbing the points of view of his bete noires. An international adviser named Michel Roland seems the master of an overconfident credo: “Micro-oxygenate!” This alludes to a technique that hastens the aging process and favors a uniform taste. The Mondavis of Napa Valley, Calif., who planned to acquire property in the Languedoc before the local chauvinists discouraged them, ruefully comment on their status as the most expansive, dreaded multinational of the trade.

“Mondovino” may be a pilot for a documentary series that devotes separate episodes to the prinicipal locations, disputes and personalities introduced by Mr. Nossiter. That seems a capital idea. If someone picks up the option, let’s hope that he insists on a genuine cameraman.


TITLE: “Mondovino”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (Adult subject matter fleeting profanity and vulgar remarks).

CREDITS: Directed and edited by Jonathan Nossiter. Photography by Mr. Nossiter and Stephanie Pommez. Some sequences in French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes



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