Toronto Review: "The Vintner’s Luck"

By Paul Fischer Monday September 14th 2009 01:55AM

Sex, lust, wine and angels are mere facets of Niki Caro's lush and sensuous period drama "The Vintner's Luck". Set in early 19th century France at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the pic centres around Sobran Jodeau (Jérémie Renier). Sobran is a young peasant who hungers for two things in life: to win the hand of the beautiful Celeste (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and to create wine in his own vineyard.

While marriage to the fiery Celeste soon follows, his wine-making ambition is considered above his station, and the patron he serves fails to put his innate skills to use. One night, however, he encounters the angel Xas (Gaspard Ulliel), who sees Sobran's passions as evidence of his profound humanity. Xas proposes that Sobran plant some vines the angel carries, and further, that they meet each year at the same time and place.

Unsettled and yet self-interested, Sobran agrees without being able to answer his own questions about who or what Xas actually is. The vines, however, are very real, and they grow and thrive. Soon Sobran encounters the next influence in his life, the proud, educated and vulnerable Baroness Aurora de Valday (Vera Farmiga). Before long, he is as deeply entangled in Aurora's emotional complexities as he is in her vineyard, leading to both spiritual and physical crises for everyone.

Though a New Zealand film, this lush, erotic and passionate film is more European with its frank exploration of sexuality and eroticism, yet the film's lyrical beauty and intelligence makes it something quite unexpected. A film about humanity and spirituality, Caro directs this film with an exquisite sense of detail. Gorgeous in all facets of visual detail, "The Vintner's Luck" is also a fascinating romantic melodrama, and at its core, comprises a cast that is spot on.

Jérémie Renier is the perfect peasant who transforms into a self-educated winemaker. It's a beautiful, complex and richly layered performance. The women in his life are spectacularly good, from the wonderful all grown up Castle Hughes, who embodies the earthy sexuality of her character and the luminous Vera Farmiga, who is clearly a versatile and complex actress and is magnificent, beautiful and passionate as the Baroness.

"The Vintner's Luck" is a spellbinding, sexy and hypnotic tale, thematically dense and original in its tale of God, angels and sexuality. It's a movie that deserves international distribution.