Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/13/05 00:13:55

"Rich, full-bodied . . . the movie is pretty good too."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A few weeks ago, I panned a documentary revolving around a niche subculture and found myself on the receiving end of an avalanche of hate mail from members of that particular subculture expressing outrage that I would reject the film and, by extension, their particular hobby. What the various death threats and notes questioning my sexuality failed to realize was that my beef towards the film was not about the subject–it was that the filmmakers presented it without ever giving outsiders any information or insight that might interest them or allow them to understand why people might feel that way.

By comparison, the new documentary “Mondovino” takes a subject–the wine industry and the ways in which globalization are unduly affecting it (and the world, by extension)–that I have absolutely no working interest or knowledge about and transforms it, through the skill of filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter, into one of the more peculiarly fascinating documentaries in recent months. Instead of making something that would only be of interest to wine fanatics, Nossiter has made a film that will satisfy them while still holding the interest for those viewers who couldn’t tell a pinot noir from Ripple.

In this epic-length film (135 minutes, about a half-hour shorter from its original festival length), Nossiter travels the globe to interview winemakers–from both small, family-owned vineyards and large conglomerates–about their craft and the state of the industry. What eventually comes out is that the conglomerates are buying out the smaller business in order to produce a more unified taste that will seem the same no matter who makes it or where it is produced. Two key figures in this homogenization are Robert Parker, a feared wine critic whose influence is so great that winemakers live or die based on his reviews, and Michel Rolland, a “flying wine-maker” who travels the world advising vineyards on how to make the types of wine that will inspire a positive Parker review.

By comparison, Nossiter’s film is more like the wines produced by one of the smaller, more stubborn makers–it isn’t particularly smooth at times (I could have lived without all the dog-related material) but it has a distinct and unique style that lingers in the mind long after others have faded from memory.

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