Directed by Niki Caro
CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge, Read the Movie Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge
In case it isn’t obvious by now, I should probably mention that The Vintner’s Luck is officially my favourite book ever. As such, I was extremely excited when the movie came out on DVD (having missed it in theatres) and hastened to pick up a copy to watch. I knew beforehand that the author had been disappointed by the adaptation and therefore had very low expectations in spite of my excitement; sadly, they were quite justified.
I will say that the cinematography was beautiful, and the musical score was lovely. Caro really gave you the sense of being in the vineyard, and the story was well grounded in the earthiness of peasant life. Even the acting was well done. For the first, say, third of the film it followed the storyline close enough that I was quite satisfied, but once it started veering off, the movie lost its magic.
What most disappointed me was that Xas was pretty much incidental to the movie storyline, which was all about wine, and women. His relationship with Sobran was relegated to a weird kind of side story, whereas it was supposed to drive the whole plot. Because I adore Xas and found his connection with Sobran to be the most moving part of the book, once I realized that Caro did not intend to address it except obliquely the movie lost a great deal of its charm for me. As for how she handled the ending? Sobran’s death scene was very well done – it was literally like seeing the book come to life – but Xas was totally shortchanged, and that frustrated me.
Don’t get me wrong – Caro did kind of flirt with the idea that he and Sobran had a more intimate relationship. But it was just that; a (somewhat confusing) flirtation, rather than the epic love story that featured in the book. More disturbingly – to me, at any rate – Caro repeatedly has Xas as the aggressor and Sobran rejecting him. Not only was it not the case in the novel, but in emphasizing Sobran’s resistance to Xas Caro ruins the theological point Knox was trying to make, and she also features a scene which is unsettlingly close to rape, albeit of the entirely non-graphic kind. While I loved seeing Xas fly in that scene, it kind of creeped me out a bit, and I can definitely see why Knox was so upset with Caro’s particular interpretation.
I appreciate that Vintner’s Luck really isn’t the sort of book that would translate easily to another medium. A lot of its power is in the language, which is obviously up for interpretation, and it doesn’t have what you’d call an action-oriented plotline. Still, my strongest feeling throughout the movie was “You didn’t get it at all!”. At times it left me questioning whether the reason she changed the storyline as she did was to avoid the flak that would come from showing an angel in a homosexual relationship, and I found the plot she did choose to include rather confusing because the original motivations were missing. I also felt a strong sense that it was not a female-friendly film, odd as that sounds. The women in it were either crazy jealous (Celeste – although she was crazy in the book as well) or cold and hard (the Baroness, who was completely kick ass in the novel). There were also a great many shots of naked women and sex scenes that, while they weren’t crude exactly, made me feel rather as if I was perhaps not in the film’s target audience, if you know what I mean. It was very much as if she were doing her best to make it into a heteronormative romance, when the entire point of the novel was the fluidity of love.
Overall, I’d say it is a film that can best be understood and enjoyed by those who have not read the book. For me, the plot made a certain kind of linear sense but the driving force behind it was different, and thus it seemed to strike all the wrong notes, like music played on a faulty instrument. Taken as a film rather than an adaptation, it was quite good, though that angelic storyline should have been dropped altogether as I don’t think it added much (anything?) to the plot. As an adaptation, it was not what I had hoped. I am not the nit-picky sort who requires all details to be identical to the book, but I felt Caro robbed the story of its main backbone when she decided to reduce Xas to a peripheral role. I did enjoy it for the lush sensuality of the setting and the music, and the cast was well chosen. There were a number of scenes I felt particularly well done, but aside from that I have to say I was not impressed. She has captured the lyrical beauty of the text, perhaps, but not its essence. A real shame.