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HEAVENLY VINTAGE (aka THE VINTNER'S LUCK) is a somewhat perplexing film. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Knox and adapted for the screen by Joan Scheckel and writer/director Niki Caro it comes across as a patchwork quilt - many fine story lines that don't seem to fit together into a grand whole. Niki Caro has some fine films in her resume - The Whale Ride, North Country, Memory & Desire - so she has proved that she knows her craft. She is supported by an astonishingly fine group of actors, a sensitive cinematographer (Denis Lenoir) and one of the best teams of costume designers (Justin Buckingham and Harry Harrison) and music composer Antonio Pinto, yet the story never becomes airbourne - and that is a particularly important factor in this film.
The year is 1815 and Sobran Jodeau (Jérémie Renier in yet another brilliant performance) is a peasant winemaker working or a château owned by Comte de Vully (Patrice Valota). Sobran falls in love with another peasant, Celeste (Keisha Castle-Hughes) despite the warning's about Celeste's mad father Sobran's father (Vania Vilers) claims Sobran will be doomed. Sobran longs to have his own vineyard and to make his own wine and one evening an angel (Gaspard Ulliel) appears to Sobran and encourages him to marry Celeste and begin his own vines and to meet the angel again in a year's time. A year later Sobran again meets his angel and reports he is not only married but that Celeste is pregnant. The angel encourages him to bravely begin his own vineyard. Sobran's goal is interrupted crop failure and by his going off to fight in Napoleon's war. He returns to the demise of Comte de Vully and the takeover of the Château by the counts niece, the beautiful Aurora de Valday (Vera Farmiga). Though Sobran and Aurora represent different classes they join together to make their dream of the perfect wine come true and there is a physical attraction that is consummated despite Sobran's commitment to his wife and children. Sobran meets his angel again and we sense the angel and Sobran are in love but a confession on the part of the angel creates a schism and form there the fortune of Sobran begins to dwindle until the resurgence of hope at the end: Sibran, Aurora, and Celestehave aged and Sobran's children are mature. The secrets of Sobran's heavenly vintage are revealed at last. 'A Heavenly Vintage is a beautiful and sensual tale about what it takes to create the perfect vintage.'
Jérémie Renier, Gaspard Ulliel and Vera Farmiga offer stunning performances but even they are unable to make the story memorable. Given those involved form the top to the bottom of this production it is difficult to understand why it does eventually work. But perhaps that is the fault of the novelist Elizabeth Knox. The film is worth for the actors and the stunning costumes and décor.
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