DVD Review: A Heavenly Vintage

STUDIO: Screen Media | DIRECTOR: Niki Caro | CAST: Jeremie Renier, Vera Farmiga, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Gaspard Ulliel, Eric Godon, Jean-Louis Sbille
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 4/17/2012 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 126 min. | Fantasy romance | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Set in France at the end of the Napoleonic era, New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro’s (Whale Rider) haunting and beautiful A Heavenly Vintage, based on Elizabeth Knox’s 2000 novel The Vintner’s Luck, is part historical drama, part religious parable and part erotic fantasy-romance.

An angelic Gaspard Ulliel is all about the wine in A Heavenly Vintage.

An angelic Gaspard Ulliel is all about the wine in A Heavenly Vintage.

Sobran (Jeremie Renier, Potiche), a peasant working in the vineyards of a provincial artistocrat, aspires to make the finest wine in France. In this ambition, he finds an unusual ally: An effete angel with great abs and an in-depth knowledge of winemaking (Gaspard Ulliel). As his wines gain a reputation for “divine inspiration,” Sobran attracts the attention of a spinsterish baroness (Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground) who offers him the business acumen to fulfill his dream.

The more passionately you cultivate your vines, the more your wine will “taste like you” and Sobran’s erotic journey is intertwined with the development of his vintner’s art. With his wife Celeste (Keisha Castle Hughes, A Nativity Story), he shares peasant lust, close to the Earth (in the first scene, he literally jumps on top of her), as Celeste glories in her fecund body. With Baroness Aurora, it is careful calibration, a courtly dance, and a scene that could do for wine tasting what Tom Jones did for dinner at a country inn. Their consummation is gentle and slowly savored, made all the more tender by a full view of her naked breast scarred from cancer surgery. With the angel, it is sensual ecstasy, from their initial drunken hook-up, (Sobran wakes up saying he remembers nothing), flashes of S&M to the blissful climax: Borne aloft on angel wings, then pounced on like a bird’s prey.

Director Caro’s visuals capture the hardscrabble provincial terrain—even the Baronness’s castle is austere; no rococo flourishes here.

The acting is beautifully gauged, balancing naturalistic emotion with a sense of ritual.

A Heavenly Vintage is like one of those Renaissance paintings of the Pieta: Religious subject matter set against a timeless landscape and a barely clothed Christ figure glorifying the human body.

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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.