10 April 2020
Film review: Résistence naturelle (2014), By Jonathan Nossiter, **
Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.
First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.
Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.
Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.
Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from IBMD.com)
A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.
The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.
The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.
Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.
The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.
The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.
They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.
I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.
In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.
You can buy the DVD here