I’ve slowly been chipping away at my large Netflix queue as I make my way through 365 movies in 2015. From mindless entertainment like Grace of Monaco to the overindulgent classic Cleopatra, I’ve seen a little bit of it all, including the occasional food documentary.
Most recently I dived into the 2013 documentary directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, Red Obsession. Too advanced for wine newbies and too superficial for people who are passionate about wine, Red Obsession is a movie that misses the mark and will likely be forgotten among the many wine documentaries that have come out in recent years.
It isn’t all absolutely terrible though. The topic itself is interesting: Bordeaux wine prices skyrocketing due to Chinese interest in French wine. This is a big topic with a lot to unpack. There are a lot of questions that come along with it. Why Bordeaux? Why did the Chinese billionaires even decide wine was worth their time? How does this all impact Bordeaux sales in places outside of China? What happens when Bordeaux has a bad year or the Chinese move onto something else? Most of these questions are thankfully addressed in the documentary, though with a running time just a little over and hour, they are not all answered sufficiently.
Also, who can deny that Russell Crowe as a narrator makes the entire film sound more intense? Heck, homeboy could be talking about Bronies and make it sound like the most serious documentary ever made. To complement his rich, manly voice is the cinematography. The shots, particularly those of vineyards, are stunning and help bring one into the movie. The visuals are one element that really save this otherwise drab film and kept me from hitting the ‘off’ button before the film was over.
From the little bit of good in the movie, we move on to the bad. To many of the Chinese people interviewed, nothing beats Bordeaux, and it’s so coveted that the purchasers pay millions of dollars for bottles they never intend to open. Buying wine, especially at that cost, and never opening it is baffling to me, and this point is the perfect opening for the filmmakers to delve into the mentality of the Chinese. This isn’t just an issue of wine; the topic opens up so many psychological, economical, and cultural questions. We get a bit of an explanation that these buyers want pricey Bordeaux to showcase their power and wealth, but this big topic is really unexplored. For a film that’s supposed to be about how the Chinese are impacting the wine industry, the Chinese seems like secondary characters.
Part of the reason why the filmmakers don’t spend enough time on the people buying this wine or the economics behind it seems to be that what they’re really trying to do is pimp out Bordeaux. After a while, the interviews that praise the majesty of this wine and discuss the history become grating. Sure, it’s an important area for any wine enthusiast to learn about, and it’s great to hear a discussion about terroir versus the soul of the winemakers, but that’s not the movie for which I thought I was signing up.
Red Obsession tackles a topic that should be interesting and enlightening for anyone interested in wine, but it devolves into a huge ad to drink Bordeaux. By failing to consider how this red obsession began in China and the larger implications of this, the takeaway of this film becomes ‘Bordeaux is amazing; people like to buy it; and maybe the interest will plateau though the wine will always be well-regarded.’ At the end of this movie, I’m not sure who the intended audience is, but I know it’s not me, and it’s probably not you either.