A Heavenly Vintage/The Vintner’s Luck

Ever since I saw A Very Long Engagement, I have been following the career of French actor Gaspard Ulliel.  A few of his films didn’t appeal to me at all—Hannibal Rising, Ultimate Heist—but I watched them anyway.  It’s frustrating, because it takes so long for his films to reach the US, if they get released here at all.

This week, Netflix finally got A Heavenly Vintage, a movie made in 2009 and originally titled The Vintner’s Luck.  It’s based on a 2000 novel by Elizabeth Knox, which I haven’t read.  Ulliel plays an angel who visits a peasant winemaker once a year to help him create a superior wine.  The movie is a joint French/New Zealand production, filmed in Auckland and France, and directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider).  The other actors include Keisha Castle-Hughes, Vera Farmiga, and Jérémie Renier.  The film is in heavily-accented English with no helpful subtitles, and there’s almost no music score.  It’s not for anyone who’s squeamish about insects, since there are many closeups of various worms and bugs in the vineyard.  Honestly, I just don’t know how I feel about this film.  The cinematography is beautiful, the actors are fine, the costumes are interesting…on the other hand, while the pace of the individual scenes are very slow, the story takes place over many years and can be hard to follow.  I got confused by all the children, who seem to age at different rates.  And why does everybody else look the same age at the end when the winemaker is an old man?

If you trust the discussions over on the IMDb board, the fundamental problem with A Heavenly Vintage is the clash between the director’s vision and the original story as written by Elizabeth Knox.  The book is about angels, the devil, heaven and hell, but the filmmaker doesn’t believe in all that stuff.  The book is also about the erotic connection between the angel and the winemaker, but apparently Caro doesn’t believe in that either, because the only sex happening onscreen is a lot of the heterosexual kind.  What’s between the guys is only hinted at.

The only thing I know for sure is that Gaspard Ulliel makes a lovely angel.  The rest is up for debate.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michael on April 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Sounds like the problem is when a filmmaker doesn’t have the same beliefs as the book writer … Why would one want to emulate the other then? Picking and choosing has the potential to refine art into something better, but it sounds like that was not the case here. Sorry to hear …

    Reply

    • I recognize that the film was a muddle, but I need to read the book to judge for myself what got lost in translation. At least the movie intrigued me enough to check the book out!

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply

  2. Posted by Genevieve on April 24, 2012 at 6:41 am

    The book is a very romantic gay love story. It has brilliant theology as well.

    Reply

    • That certainly doesn’t describe the film, then. I’ll have to read the book now. If you end up seeing the film, be sure to let me know what you think.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Nelia Green on May 17, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I’m curious – have requested from library.

    Reply

    • I’ve now read a couple of chapters of the book, and it’s nicely written. I definitely prefer Gaspard Ulliel to the angel depicted on the book cover, though!

      Reply

  4. Posted by Nelia Green on June 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

    Finally had an opportunity to view A Heavenly Vintage – a type of film/story that I’m generally attracted to, and describe as “darkly mesmerizing.” There’s a beautiful, painterly, unearthly, dream-like quality as we glide through this film – years go by, but time seems to stand still. Basic philosophical premise boils down to how one’s own belief in self and the “effort/cause” influences the “outcome/effect” of the quality and unique flavor of that year’s wine” and other aspects of life – nothing new with how that works. Vineyard 101: learned quite a bit about growing wine grapes, but not much about the rest of the process.

    Yes, everyone but Sobran Jodeau (Jérémie Renier) remains young, especially, his wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider) who seems to be chronically pregnant; Gaspard Ulliel is perfectly cast as the beautiful/sensual angel from heaven and/or hell. Interesting that Vera Farmiga’s character (the Baroness) undergoes major breast surgery, but there’s no evidence of this with her low cut revealing necklines.

    An uneven blend of some gritty down to earth stuff in the vineyard, and license to skip lightly over some pretty serious stuff, such as the surgical removal of a sizeable pair of wings, which must have had some amazing attachments: joints, muscles, tendons/ligaments, blood supply and a complex nervous system – leaving two relatively neat and tidy sutured incisions where wings were removed from his back…WHOA!!! It may have been more believable if they had simply been shed.

    I’m glad I watched the film, but really wanted to like it more than I did – could enjoy listening to Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck if an audio book was available.

    Reply

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