If Alexander Payne's critical smash Sideways were ever re-released as a 3-disc Special Edition, Jonathan Nossiter's Mondovino (2004) would make an excellent third disc. That's not to say this curious documentary can't stand on its own two feet, though: even if you're like me and don't know a drop about wine, the enthusiasm of the director/interviewer/cameraman makes this project a true labor of love. The main feature runs a bit long at 135 minutes---so if there's one real drawback to Mondovino, it's that it covers too much ground. Wine enthusiasts will surely enjoy this trip "behind the scenes" from start to finish, but those who aren't as passionate about their drink may walk away a bit light-headed.
For starters, don't get the wrong idea: Mondovino isn't a standard "factory tour" that chronicles the production of wine; instead, it's a portrait of the industry's most successful businesses---family-owned and otherwise---that touches down on three continents. As a relative newcomer to the subject, I'll admit I wasn't familiar with the faces and places; to its credit, though, Mondovino does a good job of keeping things organized. From the rivalry between a pair of Florentine dynasties to the uppity Staglin family of Napa Valley, viewers are treated to a revealing look at the history of (and heated competition between) some of the wine industry's leading producers.
Culled from over 500 hours of footage, Mondovino chugs along nicely but still seems bloated when taken in all at once. Ironically, the original cut presented at Cannes actually clocked in at around 175 minutes---and that might've been borderline overkill for even the most devoted wine enthusiasts. On a related note, rumor has it that the "theatrical cut" presented on this DVD, combined with a selection of deleted material, will comprise a ten-hour version of the documentary (divided into smaller episodes, thankfully) that may eventually see the light of day on DVD. Aside from the extra bulk, there's a few other problems here: Nossiter's playful, loose camera style works fine during the bulk of the film, but one wishes he'd have held still more often. Jarring movements are welcome on occasion, but Mondovino might trick viewers into thinking they've already had too much to drink (although that could very well be Nossiter's excuse during several scenes).
All things considered, Mondovino is still an interesting documentary about a subject that usually doesn't get much attention in the genre. It's certainly not for all audiences, but those who enjoy a drink now and then should have no problem enjoying Nossiter's globe-hopping adventure. ThinkFilm's DVD presentation doesn't fire on all cylinders, but it provides a fairly solid presentation of the film and a nice pair of bonus features. It may not be the safest best for a blind buy, but those who appreciate a good documentary should definitely take a closer look.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Presentation:
Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Mondovino showcases some beautiful scenery but doesn't always look top-notch. The color palette holds up well on DVD, but there's a distinct lack of detail in many scenes. The bulk of this footage appears to have been shot on standard and digital video---which also suffers from edge enhancement on some occasions---but this may honestly be the best the source material will look on DVD. It won't be a major issue for those with smaller sets, but there's no doubt that Mondovino's strength isn't in the video department. It's a bit stronger in the audio department, offering a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix that gets the job done nicely. The dialogue is presented in a variety of languages (Italian, French, and more), so most viewers will want to take advantage of the optional English subtitles. In short, everything sounds clean and clear.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The overall presentation is very attractive, from the nicely-designed menus to the simple navigation style. The 135-minute film has been sharply divided into a dozen chapters, with no apparent layer change detected during playback. The DVD packaging mirrors the main menu design (above left), as this single-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase. No inserts have been included.
First up to bat is an Audio Commentary with director/host Jonathan Nossiter, offering more proof that Mondovino was a real labor of love. Although he's fairly laid-back during many scenes, Nossiter is organized and candid, offering a few new layers of insight to the lengthy story. Also here is more than 50 minutes worth of Additional Footage, thankfully divided into a handful of chapters. The footage doesn't always offer much in the way of new scenarios, but the "expansion" of several locations will be of interest to die-hard fans (though more director's commentary would've been a nice touch). It's nice that both extras really stick to the basics: you don't have to dig any deeper than the film if you're a casual fan, but those interested in more have a few solid options to choose from.
It may be limited to a cult following, but I'd be willing to bet that anyone who dug Sideways should enjoy Mondovino. They're completely different films, but their shared love of fine wine will appeal to those with similar interests. Even a wine rookie like myself got some enjoyment out of it, so anyone who just likes interesting documentaries should check this one out. ThinkFilm's DVD treatment isn't "Disc of the Year" material, but it's a fine effort in most every department (while the video quality isn't excellent, this looks to be a source material issue). In all respects, a fairly solid disc that deserves a wider audience. It's not blind buy material for most DVD fanatics, but it's still worth a look. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is a sober art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.