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If you care to complete the above sentence after you’ve watched this, you’ll doubtless be scribbling superlatives because From the Vine is as entertaining as much as it is eccentric yet easy-going.
It’s hard to imagine a more deserved screening at Devour! The Food Film Fest, which is where it made its North American premiere in 2019 – not since Silence of the Lambs has Italian wine has been used to such effect on-screen.
Based on the little-known Kenneth Canio Cancellara novel, Finding Marco, Marco Gentile (Joe Pantoliano) is a Toronto high-flyer who seems to have it all – or does he? Cue a mid-life crisis with a difference, much to the consternation of his wife Marina (Wendy Crewson) and daughter Laura (Paula Brancati).
Although the movie is set predominantly in Acerenza, a small town in the Basilicata region, it’s a joint Canadian-Italian production, so getting the linguistic balance right was never going to be easy. However, it’s pulled off in style, as there’s a fair smattering of Italian/subs, but the right amount to maintain authenticity without overdoing things. In doing this, From the Vine encapsulates the never-taking-itself-too-seriously, madcap vibe of both the story and Italy itself.
Pantoliano is of course a veteran of the screen. Audiences of several generations will recognise him from movies ranging from The Goonies to The Matrix, through to TV shows including M*A*S*H and The Sopranos. For the latter he landed the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, but here we have a performance to rival that. As Marco, Pantoliano is thoroughly likeable and, although the character is somewhat misguided at times, we’re always left cheering him on from the rooftops. Once we get inside his head, we’re firmly on his side.
The script has been adapted so as the dialogue is kept to a minimum, presumably to stay as faithful to the book and capture the essence of the setting as much as possible. The direction and editing paint a picture, of both the hero and his homeland, very gradually. The decidedly screwball elements that crop up every now and again may seem a bit too out there, like the parodies of famous cultural works that unfold, but are handled in such a way that they never cheapen the story. It turns out they’re genuinely funny and only go to enhance the movie.
It’s only the last 20 minutes where it lets itself down, as the loose ends are tied up rather too quickly and conveniently. There’s no sense of Marco risking absolutely everything; the stakes seem higher earlier on in the piece.
Other than that, From the Vine is a sweet but striking slice of something the world badly needs right now. If only you could bottle it, whatever that something is, but for now let’s settle for its UK theatrical release on September 10 or digital download from September 13.
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