Natural Resistance (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Natural Resistance

Dir. Jonathan Nossiter, US, 2014, 83 mins, in Italian with subtitles

Cast: Stefano Bellotti, Elena Pantaleoni, Giovanna Tiezzi, Corrado Dottori, Gianluca Farinelli

Ten years ago, Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary Mondovino was an eye-opening criticism of the globalization and homogenization of wine production, a film that had its heroes as well as its villains. His latest film focuses on four heroes of the ‘natural wine’ movement, four radical vineyard proprietors in Italy, who are striving to produce all-natural wines in the face of market and governmental pressure.

Natural wine can be defined as wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention in both the growing of the grapes and the making of them into wine. This is wine that tastes fresh and often bites back because it is made from the grapes of small-yield vineyards and the action of locally occurring yeasts, with no or very little added sulphites, no filtering and no ‘micro-oxygenation’ (a process which mimics aging).

The term is a bit fuzzy but it distinguishes the wines from organic and biodynamic wines where, post-picking, all sorts of dastardly things can be done to standardise the product. Natural wines are organic and biodynamic but they are something else as well.

Natural Resistance lacks the dramatic bite of Mondovino, because there’s no on-screen (if indirect) confrontation between the proponents of the corporate approach to wine production and the profoundly artisanal producers of natural wine. What we have instead is a likeable series of character studies, although the sense that you’re being preached at/told off will grate with some viewers. There’s also some lovely countryside on view as the film flits from Tuscany to Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont.

This preachiness is set off by some self-deprecating humour, as when it is revealed that the firebrand winemaker has an MBA and spent several years working as an investment banker (his ‘you have to know the enemy!’ response is both wince-worthy and spot on).

The drama is also attenuated by a lack of spelled-out information: towards the end, one of the producers wonders whether he’ll be able to carry on making wine, as he keeps on getting done for tax evasion and fraud – more details would clarify whether this was an obvious injustice or something more nuanced.

The big reveal in the film – although it is hard to imagine it’s a surprise to anyone – is that Italy’s quality assurance ‘denominazione di origine controllata’ (DOC) scheme (it’s the label you see on most Italian bottles of wine) is a massive fudge, one that promotes wines and food stuffs that fit with a standardized notion of what produce from a certain area should taste like. It pushed mass-produced food and wine while claiming to represent independent producers. All four of our heroes have been dumped by the DOC body. But again, is any of this surprising when natural wine will almost by definition transgress the quality standards of a homogenized wine industry?

Throughout, the laidback characters are presented in a laidback fashion, with several camera angles suggesting the cameraman is sliding under the table after sampling too much heady Hippocrene during the course of an al fresco meal/war council that is central to the film.

The tone is set by an odd introduction in which a W. H. Auden poem is read as the camera pans over the medieval painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: the poem highlights the indifference to suffering but to what extent are our heroes being ignored or indeed suffering? More information would have been nice.

In fact, natural wine has taken off bigtime in the UK since 2004 what with the likes of the Terroirs group of restaurants and the Cave de Pyrene wholesaler/retailer – even my mum’s suburban, local Italian restaurant has a couple on the wine list.

All in all, Natural Resistance is a bit of a missed opportunity, coming across as patronizing to the viewer rather than brimming with infectious outrage or even evangelizing for wines that make a nice change from the ordinary. That said, the film slips down easily enough – which is more than can be said for some of the wine.

Review by Colin Dibben

[SRA value=”3″ type=”YN”]