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Sonoma International Film Festival Day Two: More Food, Films and Wine!

Sonoma International Film Festival Day Two: More Food, Films and Wine!

It doesn’t take much to make me happy: just a
perfect Northern California spring day, five movies playing in eclectic venues
within easy walking distance of a historic town square, and a festive and fancy
free dinner (with wine) thrown in.

As usual, the hardest part was choosing which of five (or
six) movies to go see in any of the five time slots, intelligently labelled
Early Morning, Late Morning, Afternoon, Early Evening, and Late Evening.  And not that I even chose all that well:
“In Montauk,” my 10 a.m. pick, was a rather thin if stylishly shot
love triangle with a particularly unpleasant female protagonist and a
particularly attractive male lead, that felt padded at 68 minutes (that said, it won the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Woods Hole Film
Festival and Best Director at the Toronto Independent Film Festival). But it
was shown at Mia’s Kitchen at the Vintage House, set up with little round
tables with four seats each, and it turns out I’m a sucker for free coffee and bagels with cream cheese
and wooden spoons marked MK.

“Caught in the Web,” my 12:45 pick, is Chen
Kaige’s latest (as China’s official choice for Best Foreign Film, it did not make the short list).  I wonder what China is trying to tell us,
because the society that’s portrayed in the film is singularly
unattractive: soulless, ugly, venal, shallow, seduced by status symbols, and in
thrall to technology that transmits lies instantaneously. (Hot tip: don’t trust
the internet.) Whew! I wouldn’t go to the mat for Chen Kaige, but if his name
wasn’t right there on the screen, it never would have occurred to me that he
directed this rather hot mess — which ended at least five or six times.  This particular venue, the New Belgium
Lounge at Burlingame Hall, will sell you a beer to take to your seat. My
experience is not noticeably enhanced by the woman sitting in front of me who
has managed to arrive, shall we say, already overserved, and proceeds to spill
her latest beer dangerously near me. 

After the morning slots, I
love the wine triple bill I assembled: at 3:15, “Cannubi: A Vineyard
Kissed by God,” a 28-minute passion project by James Orr (Hollywood vet
who wrote “3 Men and a Baby” and “Sister Act 2”) about the
Cannubi appellation of Nebbiolo grapes that are made into famed and pricey
Barolo wine, and how owners of adjacent vineyards with the appellation Cannubi
Muscatel or Cannubi Valletta wanted to use the Cannubi name on its own — so
their wines could command higher prices; and “Lo Zucco: The wine of the
son of the King of the French,” another passion project from director
Lidia Rizzo, about the Duke of Aumale, the richest man in France, and exiled to
Sicily after his father Louis Philippe , the last king of France, was
overthrown and exiled to England. 

The Duke created a world-famous vineyard in
Sicily — a saga romantically illustrated with period photographs housed in the
Conde Museum, in the chateau that also belonged to the Duke, who bequeathed it
to France. It’s hard to explain just how charming I found this story, told in
earthy Italian from Sicilians who remember the legends of their forebears, and
oracular French from the keepers of the Conde treasures, including the greatest
library of its time, assembled by the Duke — a man of taste with the money to
back it up. Rizzo brought seductive little soft almond cookies with her,
wrapped in “Lo Zucco” papers — a sensual way to sell a film. As I
leave the venue — Mia’s Kitchen, again — I cast a wistful backward glance at
the trays of penne topped with marinara or garlic & onion sauce that are the lagniappe for the attendees of the upcoming 6:45 screening.
(“The meatballs they served at the lunchtime screening were really
terrific,” a volunteer tells me, rubbing salt and Parmesan into the wound.)

I forgo the free pasta to go see “A Year in
Burgundy,” pure
wine-food-and-travel porn by BBC doc veteran David Kennard, now resident in
Mill Valley, who follows famed wine importer Martine Saunier on her frequent
visits over the course of the 2011 vintage to colorful family vintners along the 80-mile
Burgundy region of France. They include a fourth-generation
vintner whose piano-playing supplies much of the score for the film, and the
indefatigable, irrepressible grande dame Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy, who
wants to “cut out all the cides…herbicide, pesticide, fungicide…which
sound like homicide!”

Several multi-course meals (with the appropriate white or
red burgundy for each course), lovingly shown in the film, inflame me
sufficiently that I rush over to the fancy dinner that sponsor
Netflix is throwing for its 200 staffers that are attending the festival. I’ve missed the first course, but I’m in time for the second: rosy
roast pork with a fruit relish, a cheesy potato gratin, and a lot of really
lovely roasted vegetables.

I leave just as
a rich multi-layered cake is being served, in search of a cup of coffee to keep me awake
through the late-night (i.e., 9 p.m.) screening of Thomas Vinterberg’s
The Hunt,” which I have managed to miss at every festival I’ve been
at since last Labor Day.

By now I pretty much know what the movie is about, but it’s
still got its surprises, and curly-lipped Mads Mikkelsen, shiny-skinned,
shiny-haired, seems to carry his own key light with him. I slightly regret
deleting “Hannibal” unwatched from my DVR just before driving up to Sonoma
— but perk up when I remember I can watch it on nbc.com.  You can’t miss a thing, these days!

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