RED OBSESSION. Documentary film narrated by Russell Crowe. Directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross. 79 minutes. Rated PG (Mild sexual references).
When you see Russell Crowe’s name on the poster for Red Obsession, you might think that it is an advertisement for a thriller. Possibly set in China. Actually, there is something in that, but it is really a documentary. And, older audiences remembering the connotations of red, might then expect it to be a documentary about communist China. And there is something that too.
However, the Red referred to in the title is red wine, from Bordeaux.
Some audiences who have not developed their noses and palettes for the finer tastes and bouquet of red wine might be tempted to give this film a miss. They may not want to be embarrassed and shamed in not being able to join a conversation about the merits of the French red wines from the area. At the beginning of the film, this seems to be the case. But soon, non-experts can sit back in their seats, as this reviewer did, and respond to the broader treatment and study of the wine industry.
In fact, this film is really an economics lesson rather than a primer for an amateur who wants to go into the wine tasting or wine critics business. There is a key line early enough in the film which indicates that ‘the wine might be too valuable to drink’.
So what is the obsession? And who is obsessed?
Before reviewing the film and its aims, it must be pointed out that this documentary is beautifully photographed. Either you will be satisfied with seeing the wonderful vistas of the city of Bordeaux, the surrounding countryside, and the views of the vines in the fields or you will be making resolutions that you must soon visit this part of France. And we see not only the countryside, we see the enormous cellars, the vast number of vats, the technology that makes the wine and stores it.
But the themes themselves…
Russell Crowe, in a rather sonorous Gladiator-style voice and accent, gives us a brief history of wine growing in the Bordeaux region, beginning with the Roman legions and their planting of vines. The 2000 years of vine-cultivating and wine-making is a considerable achievement. In the 19th century, the French government classified the vineyards nominating honours for the chief chateaux. Then we are introduced to a number of the contemporary winemakers, their love for their work, their achievements, hopes for the future. We are also introduced to a number of wine-tastings as well as to critics who write for magazines on wines and serve as judges for competitions. The film really seems to be a glorification of the of the wine produced, the range of Bordeaux reds.
And then we are told that vintage years are few and far between. There was one in 2003, another in 2009 when this film was being made, a great year. And then, unexpectedly, there was a great one in 2010, even better than the year before. Without spoiling the suspense for the ending, it can be revealed that 2011 was certainly not in the same class as the previous two years.
Amid all the jollity, the wine-tasting, the enormous socials and parties to promote the wine, the scenes of options, catalogues, and more information that most of us can deal with, enter the Chinese.
The bulk of the film is about the Chinese response to Bordeaux, the Asian entrepreneurs who come into France and buy up companies, the over-rich who have sometimes dismantled a chateau, stone by stone, transported it to China or Japan and rebuild it. We are treated to glimpses of French chateaux in the Chinese countryside.
Two principal Chinese interests have emerged. The first is the desire to buy up wine as an investment, some buyers never even opening their boxes or tasting the wine. The Chinese are shown as being a strong presence at marketing socials as well as at auctions.
The other interest is in wine production, principally for China, and the Chinese gaining a reputation throughout the world, even winning some of the top prizes for wine in 2011.
We are warned, however, and we may not have thought of this, as with other luxury goods, fake Bordeaux has become something of an industry.
At the end, some of the French company owners, acknowledging their desire for profits, and seeing the enormous increases in price in 2009 to 2011, have to admit that they made mistakes, that the bubble, so to speak, had burst and the world had to adjust to more realistic prices for wines.
So by the end of the 80 minutes, we have learned a great deal whether we are wine experts or not. The information is offered in quite an intelligible and interesting way, giving background for wine lovers and broaden their horizons for those for whom wine is not a passion.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 15, 2013.