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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

A Good Year
Directed by Ridley Scott
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 11/06 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG-13 - language, some sexual content

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is an aggressive and wildly successful London banker who specializes in trading bonds. In a fit of exciting competitiveness, he pulls off a triumph that nets his company a fortune and angers his rivals. While he's still celebrating this financial feat, Max learns that his Uncle Henry has died without a will, and that he is the sole beneficiary of the estate which includes a Provencal chateau and vineyard, La Siroque. Although the wheeler-dealer in Max doesn't want to take time off to deal with this development, he decides to make a quick trip to France where he hopes to wrap up matters so he can sell the place.

Nearing the chateau, Max fondly recalls the summers he spent there as a boy (Freddie Highmore) with his eccentric Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), who taught him about competition, savoring life, and making the most of the moment. Francis Duflot (Didier Bourdon), the vinter who has worked in the vineyard for 30 years, welcomes Max back, and his wife, the caretaker of the chateau (Isabelle Candelier) makes quite a fuss over him. But when Max learns from his assistant, Gemma (Archie Panjabi), that he has been suspended from his firm, pending an investigation into the ethics of his latest bond transaction, he decides to stay a bit longer in Provence.

Things get complicated when Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), an American from California, shows up claiming to be Uncle Henry's illegitimate daughter. According to French law, she could be the beneficiary of the vineyard. Even more disconcerting, she knows a lot more about wine and the wine business than he does. She also manages to charm London realtor Charlie Willis (Tom Hollander), who already has generated some interest in the place. Meanwhile, Max discovers that he has romantic feelings for Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), a stunning beauty who owns the local café and has a long ago connection with him that at first he doesn't recall.

A Good Year is based on a bestselling Peter Mayle novel of the same title. It is directed by Ridley Scott from a screenplay by Marc Klein. The spiritual transformation that takes place in the initially unlikable Max Skinner was seeded in his summer vacations as a boy with his Uncle Henry. The older man was fond of spouting truisms, such as "The secret to riches is timing" and "There's nowhere else in the world where one can keep busy doing so little, yet enjoy it so much!"

In adulthood, Max has mastered the art of good timing, but he's lost the ability to slow down. Yet when he begins courting Fanny, that's what he needs to do. He also comes to regret that he never kept in touch with his uncle, the one person in the world who truly cared about him. Max goes with the flow of events in Provence and finds himself rethinking everything, including his relationship to his American cousin.

A Good Year is a charming jaunt that magically transports us to the sensuous setting of southern France where the sun seems to always shine and memories come alive and prove nourishing. Here we see once again how a deep connection with place can be transformative.


Special DVD features include a commentary by director Ridley Scott and the "Making of A Good Year" featurette.

 

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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Albert Finney as Uncle Henry and Freddie Highmore as young Max Russell Crowe as Max Russell Crowe as Max and Marion Cotillard as Fanny Chenal A Good Year
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