From the Vine pours a glass out to everyone that has ever wished they could escape their stale routines and escape across the other side of the world. It might not be very honest about how easy such a feat would actually be, but it is dreamy and starry-eyed in its hope that we could all work through life’s obstacles by suddenly emigrating to rural Italy.
Marco Gentile (Joe Pantoliano) is a downtrodden man who has grown tired of his corporate lifestyle. He decides to reinvigorate his life by returning to his childhood home of Acerenza, leaving behind his wife (Wendy Crewson) and daughter (Paula Brancati). The village is quaint and inviting—everyone seems to know each other, and their lives appear intertwined. Director Sean Cisterna paints this as an antithetical location to the one Marco left behind, and the results are pretty effective. The narrative is not always smooth or interesting, but we are eventually convinced that this sun-kissed idyll is the perfect antidote to Canada’s bland office sheen.
From the Vine is about a man searching for ways to soothe his own guilt and rectify his failures. And, in the process, he seems determined to rediscover his life’s true purpose. The film is playful in its commitment to Marco’s journey, and is fantastical in its presentation of his surroundings; statues’ eyes move and follow him, the vines talk to him, and the moon winks at him. It is unclear whether this is a comment on Marco’s determination to see everything—his relationships, this village, its people—in relation to his own struggle, or whether it is merely lighthearted folly. As a result, From the Vine is amusing and jarring. The film as a whole never really settles its focus, tone, or genre.
There is little grace in the manner that Cisterna moves through plot beats. The dialogue is often stiff, heavy-handed, and unsubtle in the information it’s delivering. At no point does it become distracting, but does leave you wondering what more this film could have been. This feels especially true when there are glimmers of visual inventiveness running through the film’s first act. At its half-way point it feels like a film that was determined to be at least somewhat visual in its storytelling. Its integration of flashbacks and dream sequences are particularly intriguing, granting far more insight into Marco’s complex psyche than its pretty forgettable denouement.
Despite this, your investment in From the Vine will never really wane, and this has to be largely put down to the very believable chemistry between the film’s three leads. Pantoliano is strangely charming as Marco, complicating the character’s warmth with a sort of repressed, stoic tiredness. He quite convincingly shades Marco with complexity, and an unspoken suggestion that the character is weighed down by years of corporate waste, itching to pour it all out as deep red wine. Crewson and Brancati play off this infectiously, surrounding Marco’s restraint with pep and emotional honesty.
And yet, in spite of their good work, the work’s focus and structure never quite makes sense. Brancati is magnetic and endearing as Marco’s self-assured daughter, but only truly enters the fold in the film’s second half. We are given a lengthy and borderline poignant introduction to Marco’s cheeky, mischievous childhood friend, Luca, but he then disappears into the background for the rest of the film. And Marco’s inner moral turmoil—which is a central drive for his leaving—feels buried and unresolved by the end. It is as if Cisterna knew precisely the sort of airy summer film he wanted to make, but got lost in tonal knots along the way. Its humour and mawkishness never quite marry with its philosophical undertones about morality and purpose.
From the Vine runs exactly as you will likely expect it to, and it manages to be confidently pleasant for its duration. It does not exactly make any unique inroads into its soul-searching genre, but nor does it really try to. It is content being as simple as it is, and that would be far more forgivable if it refined its focus and found the time to really commit to this whimsical simplicity.
Cisterna’s feature is well-acted and pleasantly playful, but it feels like a first draft. Ultimately, From the Vine is a confused blend of grapes that leaves a sweet but forgettable taste. With a chipper spirit and plenty of sentimentality, Cisterna offers up an inoffensive soul-searching dramedy that at its best is sweet and warm, and at its very worst is tame and unambitious.
From The Vine will be available in UK Cinemas from 10 September and on Digital Download from 13 September
Words by Ben Faulkner
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