THE VINTNERS LUCK
Certainly, a period film about how an angel inspires a man to grow wine is one of the most non-commercial choices of concept for a film that one has seen in some time it is a stretch to imagine that The Vintner's Luck would have anything that would touch base with the contemporary Twilight (2008) or Marvel Comics adaptations crowd, for instance. You do have to go with what the film has. As such, Niki Caros direction swings between moments of great beauty and a failure to fully draw one into the narrative. The film does a superb job of establishing the detail and richness of the life of the period. Denis Lenoirs photography drinks in the French countryside with a rapturous lushness. Niki Caro plants the camera down to Earth level, focusing on the abundance of life worms crawling through the soil, plants sprouting, bugs emerging. Later, during Jeremie Renniers betrayal, these images become replaced by ones of corruption, with the fruit rotting, the vines dying, and birds and bugs devouring them.
The Vintner's Luck falls into the fad for Magical Realist films such as Like Water for Chocolate (1992), Simply Irresistible (1999), Chocolat (2000), Woman on Top (2000) and The Mistress of Spices (2005), which were all centred around magical cooking, where the cook had the ability to imbue food with their own emotions or allow it to express the eaters feelings. The Vintner's Luck uses wine instead of food but is similar to these in a great many ways. Unlike Like Water for Chocolate and most of these others, Niki Caro fails to fully find the films romantic/fantastical sweep and only sporadically allows The Vintner's Luck takes off in its flight of Magical Realist imagination. The most magical scene is the one where Jeremie Rennier educates Vera Farmiga about wine-tasting and blindfolds her, getting her to feel the ingredients and emotions that went into the wine and then to touch his hand, which she unexpectedly takes and caresses against her cheek. Here we see the Magical Realist element, not to mention the attraction that has been lurking between the two, gaining poetic life. Niki Caro also brings out an intriguing gay subtext at one point, Jeremy Rennier tries to kiss Gaspard Ulliels angel and many aspects of the film can be seen in a homo-erotic light. There is a strangely beautiful almost love scene between the two with the angel carrying Jeremy Rennier through the air in a barn in a dance that has him twirling in mid-air, dropping Rennier and then catching him again just before he hits the ground.
The Vintner's Luck is slow moving and at two hours in length probably overlong. Not too much happens dramatically; nevertheless, the film eventually works on you in a cumulative way and has a modest effect. One of the strongest scenes is when Gaspard Ulliel shoots down Jeremie Renniers belief that he comes from Heaven then tosses in a wonderfully subtle bolt Not all angels come from Heaven. Some come from Hell. I have a small garden there. This abruptly throws everything that has transpired on its head, although the great disappointment is that the film does nothing with this revelation subsequently. With the idea of a fallen angel, you would surely expect Jeremie Rennier to come to the realisation that everything he has been told could be a lie or designed to corrupt him he spurns winemaking for a time but Gaspard Ulliels angel continues to be the beatific loving figure he has been throughout with no change.
On the other hand, the characters fail to always connect. The character of Sobran is well written but Jeremie Rennier has a certain blankness in the part. The worst piece of casting is Whale Rider heroine Keisha Castle-Hughes as Jeremie Renniers wife where Castle-Hughes seems out of her depth playing a French peasant woman she comes across more as a pouty teenager. At least, Jeremie Rennier makes a convincing move from his teens into middle age throughout the story, whereas Keisha Castle-Hughes fails entirely to stretch beyond her current age. Gaspard Ulliel radiates smilingly beatific grace but little more than that. American import Vera Farmiga gives an intelligent and accomplished performance.