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Sun November 5, 2006
A Good Year
A pleasant diversion
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"The prototypes of strong sensation: blazing lights, red earth, blue sea, mauve twilight, the flake of gold buried in the black depths of the cypress; archaic tastes of wine and olive, ancient smells of dust, goat dung and thyme, immemorial sounds of cicada and rustic flute." Robert Hughes on Provence
I have excessively drunk the house table wine at extended lunches in Provence, and I won't forget them for their savory simplicity and seductive subtext. It was a good year. So a film about a Brit en Provence who loves wine, women, and song can be a winner on concept alone. Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) could skin you alive as a world-class stock trader. As the new owner of on aging estate in Provence, however, he is as likely to be fleeced by local vintners or irritable restaurant owners.
Peter Mayle's popular travel pieces on France turned into a jaunty fiction in A Good Year, an endearing light piece about the intrigues of wine making, estate ownership, and that French staple, love. Screenwriter Mark Klein adapts the novel with a hearty, occasional slapstick I don't remember in the fluffy novel. No matter, the beauty of Provence and its ladies are fully exploited in this romantic comedy.
Because surface romances don't usually lend themselves to deep analysis, I will mention the obvious charms of the film and book my ticket for Provence. The plays of light on the dappled landscape are a treat; the contrast between London's trading activity and the slow-pace of Provence is ever present but not overdone. The nostalgic flashbacks to Max's youth spent with Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) are the highlight for me, a Finney fan. The feisty young Max and crusty, aphoristic uncle compete at tennis, chess, and wine tasting, all appropriate preparation for Max's ruthless career and eventual appreciation of the treasures en Provence.
This is not Cary Grant comedy, but it is a pleasant diversion for those hooked on France and Cezanne, Crowe and Finney.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com