The Vintner’s Luck is Niki Caro’s fourth feature, and it is as mixed as film as the wine and angels on her screen. It is a sumptuous film, one that engages the senses beyond sight and sound. While it is gorgeous to look at, its moments of exchange between story and viewer are too few and far between.
Sobran (Jérémie Renier) is a peasant trying to make his life better. He has a gift for winemaking that no one will support. He wishes to wed fellow peasant, Celeste (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but his father refuses to give his blessing. Sobran can’t seem to catch a break. That is, until one drunken night he meets an angel, Xas (Gaspard Ulliel). Xas is definitely not the stereotype of an angel; although beautiful, his interest in human life is limited to the visceral, and he advises Sobran that wine-making (as life) begins in the earth. Xas gives Sobran his own special vines to plant. That, plus the patronage of a noblewoman allow Sobran to finally realize his dreams.
Wine is a visceral experience. Caro apparently spent a lot of time writing to the various winemakers around New Zealand to get their impression of the winemaking life. They are more than farmers; they create the end product, and are connected to it from the seed to the corking. She compared the winemaking experience to film creation, which might be true to a certain extent. The scenes between Sobran and Xas are a beautiful compliment to the scenes where Sobran discusses his love of wine; God is to be found in both and neither. In one very sensuous scene Sobran blindfolds his patron to allow her to understand that the experience of wine is in its taste — the taste of the winemaker is the taste of the wine.
But ultimately the film, like a vintage bottle, is left too long and turns to vinegar. It tries to be a sweeping life epic, but the script calls for a more intimate approach. While intimacy exists at the beginning, half way through the film it begins to rush through the years. The main actors are not aged properly for the time of the script, leaving Keisha Castle-Hughes (whose talent is almost completely wasted in this film) looking younger than her children by the end of the film. This is perhaps a minor annoyance, but it was one of several that were detrimental to the film. While certain moments were gratifying to the senses, as a whole, the film fails to sweep the viewer off their feet.