“Red Obsession” – 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival Review

The eccentric Peter Tseng and his $60 million wine collection in "Red Obsession." (photo courtesy of the Melbourne International Film Festival)
The eccentric Peter Tseng and his $60 million wine collection in “Red Obsession.” (photo courtesy of the Melbourne International Film Festival)

What begins as an intricately detailed ode to the famed wine of France’s Bordeaux region gradually becomes a true tale of consumer greed, market chaos and a turning point in the brewing industry in the riveting documentary “Red Obsession.”  Narrated by Russell Crowe, the title partially alludes to some of the red wine referenced in the film, but more so to the rapidly growing customer base that has zoomed from sipping neophytes to expert connoisseurs: the Chinese.

The film begins with stunning imagery of the lush vineyards of Bordeaux, peppered with anecdotes from winemakers and critics on the what makes the wine and its creation – a process untouched after four centuries – take on a nearly mythical quality.  The region is coming off a banner 2009 and unexpectedly faces the prospect of back-to-back quality vintage years.  Equally unexpected, however, are the global economics which see limited supply and high demand, with prices increasing an astonishing 1,000 percent in just a decade.  The Americans, previously the top customers of the famed Bordeaux chateaux, have bowed out, and the Chinese, whose insatiable taste for luxury brands and a lifestyle previously unavailable to them during the Cultural Revolution view Chateau Lafite Rothschild in the same vein as Louis Vuitton.  Thus the seeds are planted for a drama that cannot be scripted, with all sorts of colorful characters staking their claim at all costs in what is now the world’s largest exporter of wine.

In the post-screening Q&A on Aug. 5 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, co-directors Warwick Ross and David Roach emphasized that they are feature filmmakers first and foremost.  This sensibility, coupled with their own love for wine, resulted in breathtaking cinematography that took their story to several countries across the world.  Whether it is the aerial shots of the endless rows of grapevines in Bordeaux, the dueling European and modern-day China skylines in Shanghai, or the collectors’ cold wine cellars doubling as museums of sorts, Ross and Roach elevate the industry to epic proportions during a time when a customer thought nothing of coolly handing over US$1.5 million in bills to expand his stash.  There is no telling what winemakers will face in 2013 and beyond, but with its impeccable timing, “Red Obsession” auspiciously, and beautifully, captures the ebbs and flows of historical events that have permanently altered the face of the industry.

“Red Obsession” opens in theatres across Australia on Aug. 15, and in the U.S. and Canada on Sept. 6.

Video: “Red Obsession” Q&A with co-directors Warwick Ross and David Roach, Melbourne International Film Festival, Aug. 5, 2013
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

A new vineyard with modern touches in China. (photo courtesy of Lion Rock Films)
A new vineyard with modern touches in China. (photo courtesy of Lion Rock Films)