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Mondovino (August 4, 2005)

DVD review
by Dean Tudor

Mondovino (ThinkFilm, 2005, $34.99 SRP, Catalogue No. TF-53455, 135 minutes, 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, English and French (plus relevant sub-titles)) also includes 50 more minutes (actually, it is "part six" of the director's 10-part documentary scheduled for TV and a future DVD release) plus director Jonathan Nossiter's commentary.

As most of us know by now, the 135-minute documentary (out of 500 hours shot) concerns the globalization of wine, with notes on the major players in Europe and America. The European section is mostly winemakers and owners; the USA section is mostly PR flacks, wine importers, and wine writers. There is also a lot of mutual sneering. Bulk wines are not covered.

Mondovino was filmed over three years, and it has a definite point of view (POV). But then, all documentaries should have a point of view. In the original doc, over 22 dogs were introduced to the screen. In the 50-minute extra, three more dogs were added. The extra covers some nice bits about Parker and the Burgundy lawsuit. We are also introduced to more people not in the main film, such as the Wine Spectator offices and a plastic surgeon. Mondovino was shot with a digital camera, and in the transfer to DVD it seems to have lost its graininess, and this is a good thing. The picture is clearer, and the subtitles run through OK. In fact, the subtitles in the main film are far better than the titles in the extra.

If you have never seen Mondovino before, it makes more sense to see the film for the first time with the director's commentary on. Most of the film is in non-English, and thus there are plenty of sub-titles to read. The commentary acts as a voiceover, which I thought that the original film badly needed. Nossiter explains here what micro-oxygenate means (the botox of wine, to artificially make wine taste better). Nossiter also clarifies what Aime Guibert from Mas de Daumas Gassac said (he had stated that "great wines can be made anywhere", when he actually meant to say "good wines can be made anywhere": he misspoke and wanted to take it back, but the camera never lies). Michel Rolland regrets having spoken so badly about Languedoc wines and people; he also claims that he never said certain things nor laughed the way he did. But the camera never lies.

Nossiter – and others – objected to Michael Mondavi's description of the mayor (in Languedoc, who tossed the Mondavis out) as being a "communist mayor", but that's what he was: a member of the French Communist Party. There is nothing inherently bad in being a member of the French Communist Party. It might have been more objectionable if Mondavi had said "communistic mayor" (with a sneer). But he didn't, and he didn't sneer when he said "communist mayor". It was the same tone as "liberal prime minister Martin". Anyway, nothing sells as well as controversy!

Nossiter brings us up to date, as of last year, on the activities of the Mondavis and the Europeans. Time moves on, of course, and the antagonisms between Rolland and the Antinoris have mysteriously disappeared: it was announced in July 2005 that Rolland has signed on to be a consultant on some joint ventures with the Antinoris.

The individuality of the wines is a reflection of the individuality of the people concerned. There are just as many mass marketers in Europe as in North America, but they seem to be presented here in a more humane fashion. The POV again. Ultimately, the "good" or "great" wines want you to be able to taste the terroir: this is Burgundy, this is Bordeaux, this is Napa, this is Barolo, this is Chianti. All the bulk or inexpensive wines can be made anywhere, and there is no sense of place. Does any of this matter? A wine is just a drink, but should a great wine only be known by the territory it sprung from? In many cases, it's just an ego trip for the winemakers or owners, to have their wines acknowledged as being made by them and nobody else. This is an Antinori, this is a Gaja, this is a Mondavi and so forth. To serve as a memorial, to perpetuate their memory, the cypress trees of the wine world. Buy the DVD and see for yourself.

Audience and level of use: Anybody the last bit curious about wine.

Some interesting or unusual facts: This wine culture film features interviews with Michel Rolland, Robert Parker, Hubert de Montille, Aime Guibert, Robert Mondavi, and many others.

What I don't like about this DVD: The portrayal of Italian dogs – they were vicious. Seriously, I thought the doc needed more commentary on the impact of wine writers, and on the lack of impact of wine writers. Wine merchants were ignored.

What I do like about this DVD: Good POV coverage, an effective case was made, lots of interviews in which people came across as they really were in life. I cannot wait for the large ten-parter to come out.

Quality/Price Ratio: Hard to beat for the price, say 95.




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