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I'd Forgotten About That Completely
by Jon Schuller

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I once wrote a column about hearing a piece of music that reminded me of many things, but especially it was the theme to a famous movie, Chinatown. That led to other memories and associations. It's amazing how many people, places and events can be brought back so quickly, triggered by who-knows-what. There have been numerous films about memory, including classics and thrillers like Vertigo, Spellbound, The Best Years of our Lives, Memento, The Manchurian Candidate and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In November, 2006, a film debuted that, while light and comedic, had serious, sentimental moments about past events from a boy's formative childhood. A Good Year had a wonderful cast featuring Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard, Didier Bourdon, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander and Freddie Highmore. It was directed by the re-knowned Ridley Scott. Music by Marc Streitenfeld.

Max Skinner (Crowe) is a high-powered and ruthless bond trader in London. His reputation has been built on go-for-the-throat negotiations and last minute deals. As a child (Highmore) he'd spent many summers in Provence, France, on his Uncle Henry's large wine-producing
vineyard estate. Uncle Henry (Finney) was a flamboyant ladies man who was a skilled wine maker, employing the best men and women in France to produce great wines. Max travels to the estate after learning of Henry's death and he becoming the only heir. He wants to make a quick, cash sale as the estate is in terrible condition and he wants to get back to London as soon as possible. He's driving his rented car while on the phone and, unknowingly, almost runs over a local café owner, Fanny Chenal (Cotillard); he drives away as she vows revenge.

As Max is rushing around, he decides to take pictures of the estate, inside and out. He begins getting brief memory flashes of things that happened to him as a boy staying with Uncle Henry. Swimming in the pool; playing tennis; walking through the vineyards; tasting wines as his uncle comments on young Max's skills. He's lost in thought, snaps a picture from the diving board as the board breaks; he falls into a dirt and manure-filled pool. Fanny has seen his car outside the estate and goes in to investigate. She sees Max floundering around and turns on the water. He eventually pulls himself out soaking

Francis Duflot (Bourdon) is the grumpy master winemaker who doesn't want Max to sell; he wants to keep his lifelong job. Meanwhile a beautiful, young, California girl named Christie Roberts (Cornish) shows up one day and claims to be Henry's illegitimate daughter. She's from Napa and knows about wines. Legally, she can inherit the estate based on French law.

Back in London, Max's trusted assistant, Gemma (Panjabi), keeps calling Max, warning him that if he doesn't return to London right away he'll lose his job and lots of money. By this time, regardless of a rocky start, Max has fallen in love with Fanny, vows to marry her no matter what and decides to make one more trip to London to meet with the chairman of the firm, Sir Nigel (Kenneth Cranham), who is very upset with Max. He offers Max a final, large cash settlement or a lifetime partnership in the firm. Max notices a famous painting in the chairman's conference room – Van Gogh – and Sir Nigel says it's a $200,000 copy. The original's in his vault. Max realizes Fanny has the same print in her café.

Max has decided to stay on the estate and Christie returns as the rightful heir
and owner. She argues with Duflot every day but they respect each other's exceptional knowledge of wines. Between the two, the vineyard begins to make great wines (and money) again. Max has a memory of a young girl joining him in the pool as young Max is reading. She swims across the pool, kisses him and whispers in ear. Max realizes that the girl from his past is the beautiful Fanny from his present. Max and Fanny spend their time in love with each other and the everyday beauty of their surroundings.

This is a marvelous film that captures so many things, both physical and mental, as the characters interact with their individual pasts and the present. We see the transitions of each person as they enter as one person and exit a completely different one. They realize that wealth and property have their places but caring, sharing and love, above all, make life bearable and important. The music is enchanting as well as the sentimental "oldies" that Max remembers from Uncle Henry's record collection. Please watch this film. Savor its scenes like the fine wines that come from the earth. The beauty and timelessness of the vineyards make it real and warm.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Another Unlikely Friendship. Again.

Thank Goodness, We'll Always Have Villains

Don't Judge A Book by Its Color

How To Capture a Famous Year on Film

40 Is So Young

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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