Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Saw a good movie yesterday, and just this once it's not a cheesy 50's rubber monster movie. Mondovino is a documentary about wine and the impact of globalization. It's not your usual film about wine, full of pathetic rich boomers prattling on about how they simply adore everything about Tuscany. You do encounter a few of 'em, but they come off looking like complete idiots and pretentious fools, as they should. A lot of global wine industry superstars come off looking that way. When you see negative comments about the film, it seems that much of the time they're from people offended by the unflattering portrayals of their personal prophets. It's true the movie doesn't pretend to be objective. It has a clear anti-globalist agenda, and wears its heart on its sleeve. While it's ostensibly about wine, it's really a critique of wider trends in the global economy, including the creeping homogenization and dumbing-down of consumer preferences (and therefore products) across the board. I tend to agree with this critique, although I do have to note in passing that in any other industry, if the product is basically unusable for the first 25 years after it's produced, it would be considered a serious defect, not a mark of quality.

One little quarrel is that the film does tend to romanticize the lives of small wine producers in France and Italy, so anyone who's inclined to see that as a sort of ideal existence will have this attitude reinforced.

I don't mean to go off on another round of boomer-bashing, but many of the "bad guys" in the film just happen to be affluent 50-something Americans. There's something really repulsive about rich middle-aged guys who describe themselves as revolutionaries, spouting canned references to Ralph Nader and Watergate-era journalism. Yeah, buddy, after all these years you're still a rebellious outsider exactly how? Riiiight. Also, I never want to hear the phrase "our generation" ever again. Woodstock is ancient history. Ancient, silly history.

I suppose if you aren't familiar with any history (or mythology) other than your own, everything will seem like a fresh, new discovery. You can waft about the vineyards of the Mediterranean region, flaunting your money, drinking a great deal, and generally living the life of an artistic, cultured dilettante. You can go about thinking you've stumbled on a heretofore-undiscovered idyllic rural utopia that exists apart from the "modern world". You can babble on about how the light is somehow different than anywhere else on earth. You can fill entire books about how it's all so incredibly profound, which primarily means that life moves slower, and the food's pretty good. You can do all of these things, and genuinely think you're the first "generation" to ever encounter such wonders. It helps not to be aware that rich people from northern Europe have been making this same pilgrimage for centuries now. They were idiots too, but a few of them actually knew how to paint. Oh, and then there's the people who actually live there, all of whom do, in fact, live in the modern world. Some even have cell phones. How shocking!

It strikes me that the same people who swoon over rural life in Tuscany or Provence would probably cross the street to avoid meeting farmers in their home countries. Someone who'd be considered merely "rustic" overseas becomes a hopeless ingorant redneck here at home. Small towns where everyone knows everyone else's business and everyone goes to church are picturesque just so long as they're beyond our borders, otherwise they're creepy and full of hidden evil. Deeply religious and superstitious rural Italians who go on and on about the "evil eye" are charming, but when rural people here are similarly religious and superstitious, it evokes a visceral horror among the sophisticated set. Mediterranean poverty's explained away as people simply "living just as they did centuries ago", but the same thing in Appalachia marks people as poor white trash. When was the last time you saw someone heap praise on Nebraska as a utopian land of simple folk who live in joyous, perfect harmony with the seasons?

And certainly nobody ever asks the Tuscans how they feel about their region being progressively carved up for foreigners' hobby farms and turned into a sort of agrarian theme park. Welcome to Tuscanyland, the Yuppiest Place on Earth!

But enough about that. One other distinguishing characteristic of Mondovino's baddies is that nearly all of them wear polo shirts, and the good guys don't. It's like how you can always tell the bad guy in an old western because he's wearing a black hat. Before now, I really didn't think French men ever willingly wore polo shirts, but a few of them do, the same men whose French is peppered with English terms like "marketing" and "product strategy". Yikes! This is one area where the wine world has a lot in common with the computer industry. The bad guys always wear polo shirts, preferably with corporate logos on them. It's the true IT mark of the beast, the real world equivalent to "pointy hair". However, the issue's muddied a bit by the fact that geeks who don't know how to shop for themselves also wear polo shirts, or any other corporate schwag they can get for free. Give 'em corporate logo kilts instead, and they'll wear those to work.

The good guys, on the other hand, have dogs. Some of the bad guys have dogs, too, but they seem listless and unhappy compared to the good guys' happy and charismatic dogs. Dogs get a lot of screen time. I imagine they're intended to be "telling details" about the lives of the people being depicted, but it also seems pretty clear that the filmmakers just really like dogs a lot, too. Even the world's surliest French bulldog.

So anyway, all ranting aside, I highly recommend the movie. Netflix carries it, but your local chain video store probably won't. If you're like me, and you like wine but find "wine people" appalling, I think you'll enjoy it.

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