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Monday, April 02, 2007

A Good Year

When I first saw the trailer for A Good Year, I knew I was going to see it. Unfortunately, it came out during the Christmas season and it didn’t last in theaters nearly as long as I thought it might, so I missed it. I put it at the top of my Netflix queue when it became available and I’ve watched it twice in the past week. Before I comment about the movie, here’s a brief overview from Yahoo! movies:

"London-based investment expert Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) travels to Provence to tend a small vineyard he inherited from his late uncle (Henry). When he gets suspended from his job under suspicion of fraud, he settles in to life at the chateau, remembering the time he spent there as a child. Then a determined young California girl (Abbie Cornish) arrives claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of the deceased uncle and rightful owner of the vineyard.”

As the movie begins, Max is one of those characters who you probably aren’t supposed to like. He’s cocky, arrogant, cold-hearted, a womanizer, and unethical. But for some reason, I liked him anyway. He had this sort of air about him that made me believe that deep down, he knew he was off-track—that somehow he’d drifted off course, but he had no idea how to get back, so he just sort of pretended his way through life, and most people seemed to buy the fa├žade. In fact, in a sad way, they seemed to envy him for it—and he seemed to know it.

But I saw the real Max in the subtle moments. The look in his eye as he read a letter telling him that his beloved uncle, whom he spent summers with as a boy, had died. I could see it in the way he allowed his memories of his uncle to carry him back in time—like when he sees the tennis court that they used to play on, or when he sees the squash paddles in the hallway, or in the smell of the green bottle of ink his uncle used.

When a possible heir (Christie) shows up who could possibly have a rightful claim to the estate, Max spends some time getting to know her. Early on, they had a conversation over dinner. Here’s part of their exchange:

“Henry always was a little bit of a mystery,” Max said.

“How so?” Christie said.

“He loved England. He lived in France. He loved women—but never the same one for more than a certain period of time. He never got married. He loved adventure, but every single one of my memories takes place within about a hundred steps of this very spot.”

“Are they good memories?”

“No. They’re grand.”

I love his facial expression when he speaks this last line. He raises his eyebrows a bit and tilts his head forward just to make sure she understands how important his memories are to him.

Not only does the past have a hold on him, but the present does as well when he meets and falls for Fanny—a beautiful restaurateur who is full of spunk, and passion, and pain. She has no intentions of letting Max get close to her, but his persistence, and apparent temporary residence in France, convinces her that he’s worth spending time with over dinner. This causes Max to have even more doubts about returning to his life in London.

I won’t give away the ending. To be honest, I don’t think the beauty of this movie is in the ending anyway. Instead, in comes in watching a man slowly come alive to the real joys of life—great memories, good food and drink, friendships, and love.

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