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Friday, February 20, 2009


"Why don't I like you?"
“Because you think I’m an ass. And I’m not really. It’s just that I’m British and you’re not.”
“No, it’s because you are a snob.”

It is strange to think that even those whom we consider experts in a field can be wrong; that what we consider to be the acme of excellence can merely be an illusion cultivated by years of prejudice and tradition. Expertise fosters on tradition, in learning by repetition and perfection, but so does snobbism. The difference is that the expert is aware that traditions can be change a snob is dogmatic about it because his knowledge relies in tradition. In simpler words: the former thinks outside the box; the other is box-minded. Bottle Shock tells the story of three experts in winemaking, and how they caused the collapse of its traditions.  

The film opens with several bird’s-eye-view shots of Napa Valley vineyards with a narration about how, “It wasn’t always like this”.  It is unfortunate that I had to see this shots in the 17-inch screen of my computer; they would have been epic to see them in the big screen. After the opening the film introduces its main characters, Bo (Chris Pine), the son of a dreamer who thinks he can make wine because he read a few books about winemaking, and Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), the son of a Mexican laborer who knows how to make wine because he was brought up with soil under his nails and the smell of grapes in the air. After that the film moves to Paris where we meet our third expert, Steven (Alan Rickman), a British snob who runs a wine tasting school and firmly believes that only France, and maybe Italy, could produce fine wine. It is strange to think that before 1976 everyone would have agreed with him, even the wine growers in Napa. Steven is challenged into holding a blind tasting contest between French wines and California wines. Steven then flies to California in an expedition to pick the best wines he can find.
For a film about challenging dogmas, it employs every traditional technique that classical independent American films use: its photography presents us the epic vastness of the American landscape, as if the film were a Western; it illuminates this landscape with colorful and believable characters who undergo a journey to find themselves; and it is of course based in a true story of success, that reaffirms the American dream.
Even though it is not as radical in its story telling as other recent independent films, it is far more entertaining than many. It offers light warm-hearted comedy. The only thing that did bother me about the film falling into a traditional track is that for a moment there I truly thought there was something there between Gustavo and Sam, which was not simple infatuation cause by very fine wine. It is a bit heartbreaking that the Mexican is pushed aside to become a sidekick, particularly after a very inspiring speech about racial equality when he is first introduced, and that it is the blonde dude, which ends up with the blonde chick, even after her wine tasting experience with Gustavo. I guess that is how it happened in real life and the film had to portray it as it was rather than romanticize the events even further.
Oh, and Alan Rickman’s performance is magnificent. The timing of Steven’s bursts of snobbishness is perfect. And you do learn a bit about wines, for example: I did not know wines are susceptible to jetlag, a phenomenon known as bottle shock. You learn something new everyday. 

4 stars

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