“Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane.”

Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (1957)

(adapted from thoughts scribbled some years ago)

Every so often (but not too often), a film comes along that makes one wonder whether the director has some special key to the doorway of one’s very imagination; as if the images one sees in one’s head have been transposed onto a film strip and projected for the world to see. It is gloriously and frighteningly intimate, and that is precisely the film Niki Caro has made. From the very first scene, a pair of delicately beautiful white hands pouring a glass of wine and holding it to the lips of an aged man. There are no faces and no voices, only images and sound; an ambient evocation of reading the novel itself.

The film unfolds like a Renaissance painting, with breathtaking Burgundy landscapes, in dark hues of reds and browns; the wine and the soil. This film breathes, perspirating with a sensual and rich palette that one can practically taste. Ordinary life is transformed into the extraordinary, as Caro takes an unhurried pleasure in showcasing the very movement of the earth and the life within – the dewdrops on leaves, the bright insect crawling along the rotting wood of a log. And then, out of the darkness of the vineyard at night, a pair of white wings perched on a ridge. The heart and emotion of the film is not in the dialogue, but in the image. There is an insatiable hunger in every scene, pulsing with life and desire and all that is of human essence. The angel Xas tells Sobran (and thus the audience), “You cannot have desire without despair,” and so instills a balance that surrounds the entire film – life and death, love and lust, flourish and rot.

A particular scene come to mind when I consider the evocative mastery of this film – the first is a scene of exquisite intimacy and unbridled passion between the angel Xas and the vintner Sobran. It is a dance of cat-and-mouse, as the two characters push and shove and grasp and catch each other in a metaphorical act of lovemaking. Xas raises Sobran to the height of the rafters only to let him fall, but in an instant is at the bottom to catch him, holding on for dear life. Just as Sobran encourages the Baroness Aurora to feel a wine, to learn its character and life, Caro demands the same of us. The film is not simply for watching, it is a full embrace of all the senses and all the facets, both cruel and wonderful, of the human (and divine) experience.

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