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I saw this film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. Since
I work in the wine business, I had been quite eager to see this
documentary, and I wasn't disappointed. Reportedly drawn from over 500
hours of footage, the good news is that Nossiter will be releasing not
only a theatrical cut, but a ten-part, ten hour series of the film on
DVD by next Christmas (ThinkFilm is distributing it). The bad news is
that it's still a bit of an unwieldy beast. When it was shown in
Cannes, it was close to three hours long. For Toronto, he's cut about
half an hour but it still clocked in at 135 minutes. Now, for me,
that's fine. I love wine and I love hearing about the controversies
raging in my business. But not everyone wants that much.
Nossiter flits around the globe, from Brazil to France to California to Italy to Argentina, talking to wine makers and PR people and consultants and critics about the state of the wine world. The theme that emerges is that globalization and the undue influence of wine critic Robert Parker are forcing a kind of sameness on wine. Small local producers are either being bought up by larger conglomerates (American as well as local), or are being pressured by market forces to change their wines to suit the palate of Mr. Parker, who dictates taste to most of the American (and world) markets.
It's a complicated subject, and I can understand why Nossiter wants to let his subjects talk. There is Robert Mondavi, patriarch of the Napa wine industry, and his sons Tim and Michael, whose efforts to buy land in Languedoc faced opposition from local vignerons and government officials. There is Aimé Guibert, founder and wine maker of Daumas Gassac, iconoclastic opponent of Mondavi's plans and crusader for wines that express local terror. There is Robert Parker himself, expressing some discomfort with his influence while refusing to stop writing about the wines that he favours. There is "flying wine maker" Michel Rolland, consultant for dozens of wineries all over the world, advising them how to make Parker- friendly wines. There are many many more fascinating personalities in this documentary.
If you are a wine lover, you will want to seek out the ten-part series as well as the theatrical version of this film. But even if you're not into wine, the film is an interesting look at how the forces of globalization are changing many of the world's oldest and most established traditions. The effects on local cultures and economies cannot be ignored.
Mondovino is an extraordinary documentary. It's self-indulgent, quirky,
opinionated and overlong, but it's likely to be indespensible, because
it's a devastating anatomy of the growing conflict between authentic
local production (the French key word is "terroir") and the
globalization of wine by which family origins are forgotten and the
emphasis is on quick satisfaction, forward flavor, and standardized
The maker of this film is Jonathan Nossiter, polyglot, sommelier, happy tippler, photographer, director, and star interviewer in his documentary film which began as a quickie, but wound up taking four years to make. Nossiter appears as fluent in Italian as he is in French, and perhaps in Spanish and Portuguese too. He's often on screen, addressing everyone in their native language, but it's his camera that's obsessed with sometimes annoying details, above all dogs.
Never mind, though; he manages to get everybody to open up to him, including many of the leading "players" of the international wine market, including those who come off the worst in Nossiter's documentary. And even those dogs turn out to have meaning. Isn't one's dog the clearest metaphor for a person's true nature?
It's obvious Nossiter likes Battista Columbu in Sardinia and Hubert de Montille in Volnay best and it's obvious why. They're different sorts of men: Columbu is radiant and serene, de Montille querulous and acerbic. But they stand equally for what may be a vanishing world -- one where wine-making is authentic, personal, local, humane, where it's identified with place of origin not brand, done for pride of craft not profit, or what the Michel Rollands and Mondavis want for worldwide, nay, universe-wide market domination. Both dream openly on camera of making wine on other planets and of selling it to everyone.
De Montille comes across as mattering more than the Mondavis or any of the other aristos and plutocrats. He has only a few hectares. He makes wine that's severe, edgy, not for everyone like himself -- and long-lasting. He's true to himself. A big focus of Mondovino is how the California Mondavis who've already collaborated with overblown first growth bordeaux Mouton Rothchild to produce a pricey California hybrid, Opus One, since the Eighties -- recently tried to get hold of a big slice of burgundy. But a communist mayor took over the town from a socialist one and the sweetheart deal was off.
The Wine Spectator becomes, as Nossiter shows, one of the manipulators, and manipulation is an essential aspect of globalization. So too is Robert Parker, of Monkton, Maryland (who gets interviewed and his flatulent bulldogs thoroughly photographed). Parker has always been independent, but his wine ratings (and his taste) have come to wield too much power over the world wine market. French wine-makers are terrified of him, and that situation has undermined their independence. Parker, it turns out, has long been very friendly with Michel Rolland, a super-star French wine consultant (whose Mercedes limo we get to ride around in), and it turns out that the kind of heady, forward, fast-developing wine Parker likes is also what Rolland encourages wine-makers to produce and globalization means not only eliminating small producers but homogenizing wine styles. Hence Rolland's ebullient charm is suspect, but so are Parker's so-called authenticity and independence.
The richness of Nossiter's picture comes out in the way he delineates wine families and their different, sometimes squabbling, members most of all the de Montilles, the stubborn, feisty and wise old Hubert; his energetic son Etienne, who works for the powerful negociant, Boisset; and his daughter, Alix, in personality closer to Hubert, who decided to leave Boisset because they want her to lie -- to put her seal on wines she hasn't supervised the making of.
Nossiter's eye and ear can be devastating. The rich Staglin family in Napa Valley emerges as self-congratulatory and self-deceiving nouveaux bores. Their and other ruling wine families' condescension, outright racism, and covert or past links with the fascists and even the Nazis is another of the persistent filmmaker's gradual revelations. As one Nossiter interviewer has said, "don't get him on the subject of Berlusconi and Bush"; but Berlusconi is just fine with the wealthy Italian wine-making families.
Another sympathetic dissenter to the globalizing bandwagon is New York wine importer Neal Rosenthal, who knows the importance of terroir and the inroads against it. Rosenthal was present as a speaker after two of Film Forum's afternoon showings of Mondovino -- a local hero, of sorts, for the documentary's US premiere.
It's hard to do justice to the film or even list its full roster of figures. Michael Broadbent, longtime Wine Director at Christie's, a dry, aristocratic Englishman, once a leading authority and wine tastemaker, now eclipsed, as all are, by Parker, appears on screen to fill in the central role the English played in the growth of France's finest wines. Bernard Magrez, head of a huge Bordeaux dealership; the Antinoris of Florence (aristocrats with fascist lineage). . .the list goes on and on. One doesn't want to stop, and one sees why Nossiter's film is too long. Because it's all there in the details: this is what the controversy is about. Little things matter. Mondovino is annoying (the jumpy camera, the dog farts), but also riveting and important a film not to be missed. And for the truly interested, there is a ten-part TV series from this material on the way.
I saw this at the London Film Festival last night, apparently the
shorter version. James McNally's summary of the content of the film is
very good. Nossiter very deftly blends his investigation of the wine
business into wider concerns about globalisation, homogenisation, the
effect of the mass media, the power of capital and the need for
The film is shot on hand-held DV which some might find offputting, but which does enable Nossiter to catch people off guard on a number of occasions which probably would not have been possible using more conventional equipment.
Despite the sprawling feel of the film, the editing is very sharp, not only giving us a parade of the world's dogs, but also undercutting a number of interviewees' comments with somewhat contradictory visual images, and giving others sufficient rope to hang themselves. To a degree this evoked Michael Moore's recent work (although Nossiter operates in a more subtle way), but probably the roots of the film go back to Marcel Ophuls' "The Sorrow and the Pity", both in the way the film is constructed and in the emergence of 'salt of the earth' French peasants as the stars. De Montille pere et fils were present at the LFF screening and answered questions afterwards. We do indeed all need a little disorder - bravo Hubert!
Overall an excellent film with implications that go way beyond the world of wine into the way we construct ourselves as people, and organise our world.
Mondovino is a dense, rich, and complex documentary on the power
struggles and major players of the "wine world" elite. It depicts the
endless struggle of the old world versus the new global capitalist
order. On one hand we have the older, aging, independent grape-growers
and wine makers of Burgundy and Tuscany. They have a philosophy of wine
as a symbol of civilization. It's not simply a commodity to them. The
production and consumption of wine is a religious experience between
man and the earth.
On the other side of the "war" are the major wine-producing conglomerates, such as the Mondavi family of Napa Valley or the producers of Ornelliai wine in Italy. No, these aren't bad people. They simply have a different philosophy on wine production, and they eagerly embrace the new technologies and innovations in wine fermentation, such as the "New Oak" barrels that speed up production. They also hire Michel Rollan, a world-famous "wine consultant," who tells people how they can better the quality of their wine through different production processes. But the smaller, more independent wineries see "wine consultants" as harmful to diversity, because they worry that consultants seek to make all wine the same. Just because one consultant likes or doesn't like a wine, does not mean that every pallet will agree.
Mondovino also shows the dark histories of many of the world's most powerful wine producers. Some of the most successful wine makers in France collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War II, and most of the major wine producers in Italy supported Fascism and Mussolini. There are still racist and elitist undertones in much of the wine world today. Mondovino carefully weaves together the web of land, power, politics, and wine.
This film is a lot a great bottle of wine. It's complex, multifaceted, and can't be rushed. I'm not going to lie -- Mondovino is not a short movie. It's over two hours long. But like a great wine gets better with age, so to does this movie get better as time progresses.
If you've ever wanted to know more about wine and the people who make it, this film is a great resource to learn from. "Wine people" are going to love it. But for the average Joe who just wants a good time at the theater, this probably is not the best selection for him. It's not entertaining as much as it's educational, and if you're not in the mood, you're not going to feel it. Just like how you can't enjoy a savory glass of Pinot Noir if all you want is a beer.
Business vs. personal conviction. Profit vs. art.
As with any documentary that pits the capitalist large corporations against the small producer, the viewer will invariably have to take the side of one or the other based on their own believes. This is as much a documentary of the new standardized way of doing things that globalization is bringing us, against the old traditional ways where character and the art of making things matters almost more than getting the product sold.
If you have to remember one thing from this movie, it is that the masses can no longer decide by themselves, they just follow the taste of one or a couple of critics that tend to equalize and standardize taste in the same way as MacDonalds used to do for the fast bite (something Parker himself admits to in the film against a backdrop of a Burger King sign). "It is all about image" against content as another interviewee says. That is the easy way, the standardized way. Easier than taking the time for a nice wine to mature, easier than to forge your own taste by trying and trying yet over again. Controlled branded taste is easier.
There is a glitter of hope when even some of our cousins across the ocean agree that a few people are "levelling" the taste of wines to maximize the profits and ensure a maximum of it gets sold to the "grey masses". Individuality and difference is sacrificed for the extra buck. It is nice to see that not everything or everyone is giving in to standardization, even across the ocean.
As in many other areas of today's world, dominance of a few and reduced freedom of choice impacts us all... let everyone make up their mind and decide what to go for. Too much standardization kills the mind and taste; difference brings innovation and healthy competition and will allow for choice - and not just vacuum-packed "more of the same". Standardization sells easily and a lot, and brings everyone to the same level - the lower one.
On this, I am going to open up a nice bottle and wish you a hearthy "sante".
I was expecting a lot from this movie, and I can say I haven't been
disappointed. First of all, this movie, as a world tour of wine making,
let the spectator enjoy beautiful places. The people interviewed are
really interesting and funny too, in particular Hubert de Montille. The
shooting may be confusing, the camera always being unsteady and often
focusing on secondary elements in the backgrounds. You may not like it,
but I don't consider it as a defect.
The themes raised in the movie may be kind of confusing as well, since globalization isn't the only issue discussed. But Nossiter managed to give his movie a consistency all along. A great achievement of this movie is revealing all the characters involved in the wine industry as they really are, avoiding a cliché "Good against Evil". This could be the main difference between "Mondovino" and Michael Moore's documentaries; Nossiter's point of view appears in a subtle way, through opinions expressed by his favorite characters. The richness of this documentary relies mainly upon the characters, the history of long-time wine-making families, such as the De Montilles, the Mondavis, the Antinori and the Frescobaldi. Nossiter lets the spectator discover that wine is somehow related to families, rather than just being a business and an industry. This movie doesn't make you want to drink wine, but certainly make you want to discover vineyards and wine-makers.
I watched this movie as a student in Enology, and let's just there are many ways to learn. I give this documentary 10 out of 10, despite his technical particularities.
A very interesting documentary - certainly a lot more than Sideways, a pseudo wino drama - where the capitalist conspiracy is revealed in all its greed. According to the documentary - and confirmed by the recent publication of a biography on Parker - only two men dictate the nature of wines in the world: Robert Parker of Massachussets and Michel Rolland, a French wine industry expert based in Bordeaux and also known as a "flying winemaker". The director is clever enough to insert interviews of local wine producers from many different regions of France, from Sicily to Argentina and interviews of the biggest players in the industry such as the Mondavi family to uncover the wraps on the globalization of wine making and marketing. A must see for anyone interested in the dark side of the industry. Drinking a glass of wine will not be the same political and commercial act after watching this well made documentray.
Just saw this movie 2 days ago. A very interesting look at people and
our world through the world of wine. I have no special interest in
wine, and yet I found this very enlightening. The director gave me the
impression that he has the ability to show people as they are. While he
exposes a lot of things that are below the surface he manages not to
take a stand and leave that for the viewer. He shows a lot of
compassion to people (and dogs) and sympathy and let people tell their
story and in the same time exposes what they don't want to tell.
The movie shows us where our world is going to, what are the benefits and what is the heavy price we pay. It is a movie about the love of wine and the love of making it big, personal and global, character and formula.
The real stars of the people for me are the older wine makers with their disillusioned look at the world and themselves.
It takes some time to get use to the hectic camera moves and editing, but it's worth it.
It's not really about wine. No, Nossiter's real targets are those who
would streamline and assimilate the peculiarities of local (wine)
production for business purposes. To this end he has made an excellent,
objective film. Spirited, bumptious, emotional and flawed independent
wine producers are juxtaposed with media-finessed, anodynesprech
Amercians and auld-Europeans: the art of wine-making against
market-driven, laboratorised product manufacture. It's an open show
that doesn't lead conclusion.
Nossiter's film is occasionally infuriating to watch - cameras are neither concealed, nor steadicam, by any means. There are also plenty of captions as well as subtitles to wade through, often too short a time on screen.
However it does outdo Michael Moore at the game Moore can't play anyway. The characters speak for - and therefore condemn - themselves. Well worth a viewing 7/10
Our reviewer from Toronto told you what you need to know about this film (except note that it needs editing-the hand held technique gets really old, really fast). I saw this film last night in Menerbes, France-we are in the Luberon Valley, which is covered with vineyards and of course wine makers. They were all there in the Salle de Polyvalente for the showing-crammed in. Polite, patient, genial. Although my French is testy, I got the gist of the film but noted that the audience loved the "old" terror growers interviewed-esp. the one from a communist village in Languedoc. He got a lot of laughs. This is unusual in France-laughing aloud. There is no question which side of the terror-globalization war they are on! SM
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