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.