When it comes to picking wine for dinner, I’ve always been firmly in the “go for the second cheapest and hope for the best” camp. Yet this didn’t stop me loving Sour Grapes, (★★★★ 85 mins, cert 15) a documentary about nefarious goings-on in the fine wine industry. I suspect even teetotallers will get a kick out of it.
The film tells the story of how a young Indonesian man, Rudy Kurniawan, hoodwinked the New York wine scene by buying up châteaux-worth of expensive vino at auction and then flooding the market with ludicrously priced vintages, many of which turned out to be fake.
Rudy refused to be interviewed for the film, so instead directors Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas use footage of him recorded for a television show that never was, alongside talking heads comprising wine specialists, Rudy’s unsuspecting victims and his friends.
The fraud was eventually discovered by investigators hired by people who spent millions on Rudy’s misleadingly labelled wine. What they uncovered appeared to be far bigger than just one young rich kid’s scam. The film suggests that an elaborate criminal network was behind Rudy’s counterfeiting, even if the mistakes that led to the uncovering of the con were delightfully schoolboyish: like labels misspelt and “vintage” wines that had never existed. The fact that these simple mistakes slipped past plenty of so-called experts is instructive, to say the least. Rudy may have been scammer-in-chief, but the world of fine wine is clearly a place where charlatans and blaggers can roam free.
The Clan (★★★108 mins, cert 15) is also a true-crime story, but the crimes it recounts make Rudy’s wine caper seem very small beer. Pablo Trapero’s feature is about the infamous spree of kidnappings and killings carried by the Puccio family of Argentina in the early 1980s. With the junta gone, regime apparatchik Arquímedes Puccio carried on plying his trade of violence and abduction in order to extort money from the families of those he was “disappearing”.
Two of his sons joined him in this hideous enterprise, while his wife and two daughters, The Clan suggests, were not unaware of what was going on.
The film relies on a fantastic performance from Guillermo Francella, who plays Arquímedes as a shuffling, controlled and utterly terrifying patriarch. The Clan calls to mind Pablo Larraín’s Chile-set Tony Manero, but lacks that film’s unrelenting dramatic edge. Clearly Trapero has his eyes on the international market as he constantly evokes tropes of American gangster movies and TV shows. The Sopranos is an obvious reference as Arquímedes attempts to keep both his middle class family life and dark trade ticking over. Scorsese springs immediately to mind, too, with the film’s smooth tracking shots and booming rock ’n’ roll soundtrack.
It’s an enjoyable spectacle, but sometimes a little too slick for its own good.
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