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A Good Year

A Good Year (2006) is a sort of alternate-universe chick flick, like a romance novel told from the point of view of the cold-but-handsome love interest rather than the plucky heroine. The template for such stories was set in stone decades ago by Harlequin, Silhouette, and other purveyors of the genre — a headstrong young woman, usually one who's had her heart broken and has vowed to never love again, meets a gorgeous fellow with a hard-consonant name like Dirk or Clint who's a right bastard in every possible way. But he makes her weak in the knees so, despite her mistrust, she falls for him and, by the story's end, her love has melted his cold, hard heart and he becomes the giving, caring partner of every woman's dreams. A Good Year tells us this story from the man's perspective — Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a masterful London investment broker who enjoys his money, his interchangeable women, and the thrill of high-risk bond trading. When his uncle Henry dies (Albert Finney, in flashback) Max must travel to Henry's chateau winery in Provence to prepare it for sale. During his visit he remembers his idyllic summers as a child, learning about the winery from his uncle, and he has several cute-meets with a gorgeous-but-suspicious local café owner (Marion Cotillard). He also gets a visit from a young American woman (Abbie Cornish) who claims that Henry is her father, which would grant her ownership of the winery. Predictably, he softens and grows to love both the winery and the French woman, and then has to choose between his life in London or his life in Provence. Which will he pick? Oh, the suspense!

As beautiful as it is to look at — and indeed, the cinematography by French DP Philippe Le Sourd is so evocative you can practically feel the Provençal sun on your face — A Good Year is a curiously insubstantial film, made all the more curious by the fact that it was directed by Ridley Scott. This is a small picture, made by a man whose entire career has been built on big movies. Perhaps, after the enormity of Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven he's decided that making the occasional small picture like this and Matchstick Men is the equivalent of a vacation. The original novel was by Peter Mayle, a fine writer who's created a sort of cottage industry of writing about Provence since he moved there himself, and the screenplay was by Marc Klein, whose only previous writing credit was the squishy rom-com Serendipity. Which brings up the second curious note in A Good Year, which is that parts of it seem to be missing. There's a running gag which has each new visitor to the chateau awakening in the morning to discover scorpions in their bedroom, which brings the housekeeper (Isabelle Candelier) running to kill them and then explain, "Lavender!" which doesn't explain anything at all. Are scorpions attracted to lavender, or are they repelled by it? Why are there scorpions at all, and what the hell does lavender have to do with it? It's a weird joke that has no pay-off. Likewise, a subplot about an amazing, locally made wine with a secret origin resolves exactly the way you'd expect but without actually explaining anything about it, leading one to believe that this was fleshed out in Mayles' novel and tossed in here more out of loyalty to the book than because it was necessary to the story. It's easy to see that Crowe, Scott, and the rest of the cast had a wonderful time shooting the picture and enjoying the French countryside, and it's a pleasant enough experience. It's just not a particularly noteworthy one, serving more as a nice bookend to Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), which did a better job of tackling the same sort of material.

Fox's DVD release of A Good Year features a palpably gorgeous anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that really plays up the different techniques used in the film, with Scott and La Sourd making Max's London life cold and blue, with sharp, modernistic edges everywhere, his Provence experiences warm and pastoral, and his memories of his uncle glowing with a hazy, yellow hue. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, French or Spanish with optional English or Spanish subtitles) is excellent, showcasing a distinctly odd soundtrack that mixes romantic French classics such as "J'Attendrai" with old Harry Nilsson songs like "Jump Into the Fire," "Gotta Get Up," and "Never Ending Song of Love." Extras include an optional video/interview featurette that may be accessed either during the film or via a separate menu, which looks at how various sequences were created; a promotional interview (2 min.) featuring Scott and Crowe; three trailers for A Good Year plus trailers for other Fox titles; TV spots; and three so-so music videos featuring Russell Crowe and his band, The Ordinary Fear of God. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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