The gist of this lengthy documentary on the state of the wine industry: Globalization is leading to an emphasis on new wines with hip brand names, and driving the older winemakers out of business, along with their slow processes and borderline mystical attitudes toward the ability of wine to evoke its place of origin. It’s a familiar tale of the harsh, vulgarizing aspect of progress: the businessmen versus the philosophers, the well-heeled versus the small family vintners, the bottom-liners versus the true believers.
On the side of unbridled progress is Robert Mondavi, a major lifelong player in the wine industry. His representative flies around Europe advising clients to “micro-oxygenate,” which sounds rather sinister, especially since we’re never told what it means. Then there’s Robert Parker, a wine critic who can make or break a label, and peppers his pronouncements on good wine with patriotic metaphors about Americanization and democratization. Set against these heavy hitters are the old-style winemakers with their colorful musings about wine’s sensory impact, and an Argentinean grower who’s going out of business but displays a dignity beyond the reach of the fat cats. This is obviously a film with an agenda, though it’s not a disagreeable one.
The problem with Mondovino is that it takes you into a very specialized world and doesn’t give you enough guidance. The names pile up faster than they can be absorbed, and the point of it all becomes fuzzy at times. Director Jonathan Nossiter was behind the low-key existential suspense film Sunday, which makes Mondovino’s flaccidity all the more surprising. It’s informative, but unless you have a previous interest in the subject, not very entertaining. At 131 minutes, its repetition can be a little numbing. However, if you stay up nights worrying about the globalization of the wine industry, this film’s for you.
In English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, with English subtitles. Showing at 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 17, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].