16 January 2014

Movie Review: Vino Veritas

Once in a while I get an opportunity to see a film ahead of time when it is related to food and wine. My first opportunity was back in early 1990 when a friend's father worked for Nestle and got us into an advance cross-promotional screening of The Hunt for Red October. Free movie, no trailers, and all the Crunch bars you could eat. Years later, I would get the chance to view a few documentaries and independent films ahead of public release, like...

Vino Veritas (2013), directed by Sarah Knight and starring Carrie Preston, best known recently for her work in HBO's True Blood. Shot on the RED One digital camera, which is a seriously incredible piece of technology that allows for great cinematography at a fraction of the cost of traditional film setups.

This isn't a wine movie per se, since the beverage in question is enhanced by the skin extract of hallucinogenic blue Peruvian frogs. And while I've never consumed any illegal substances, I have a feeling that if this product came up in conversation a lot of my friends would think, "I wonder if Ben has tried that yet..." Like army worm wine from Minnesota. The fact that I've reviewed wines made from rhubarb and corn and pineapple and dandelions and all sorts of other things should show that I have a curious palate.

The plot involves a Halloween gathering hosted by a husband and wife who miss the exciting earlier life as photojournalists and who are arguing while adjusting to life with kids in the suburbs. They are joined by an aloof doctor (and wine fanatic) and his restless housewife who spends the entire film in an elaborate Elizabeth I costume. The reactions of some of the other three characters to the doctor made me smile--there is a great early joke about serving a Nebraska Chambourcin (a tip of the hat to the shooting location of Lincoln, NE). Later, that character made a guessing reference to a Zweigelt rosé when told that the special wine of the evening is not a red or a white.

The blue frog wine is a literal truth serum, which forces the four characters to avoid politeness and little white lies, and here we enter the structure of a three act play. The entire movie is contained within the living room, kitchen, and side room photography studio over the course of a few hours (plot time, the movie itself is under two hours). Things take a dark turn as uncomfortable truths about each other come up and the two couples even lash out about the others children. Honesty isn't always comfortable, and this film will make you squirm in places. But art is not always meant to make you happy, and different kinds of art will produce different emotions.

I'm a fan of magical realism when done well, and the element of the blue frog wine in the context of this movie is more believable than a psychiatrist in a group therapy session. After all, the two couples thought they were doing something fun, not getting together to unload everything on their minds. I can't say that it's a good date movie but if you're looking for a good independent thinker on a cold winter night, give it a shot.

Available January 15th on iTunes & VOD via Gravitas Ventures.

Note: This screening was provided as a sample for review.

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