Before Casablanca, not many people considered Humphrey Bogart a likely romantic hero.

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This article was published 18/7/2020 (266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Before Casablanca, not many people considered Humphrey Bogart a likely romantic hero.

It’s just something to keep in mind when considering the Canadian-Italian co-production From the Vine. Produced in part by Winnipeg’s Farpoint Films, it’s a movie that puts Italian-American character actor Joe Pantoliano in a rare turn as a leading man. It feels like a stretch if you know Pantoliano from work such as The Sopranos, The Matrix or Bound, where he has generally mastered the art of playing disreputable men.

In this low-budget confection, directed by Sean Cisterna, Pantoliano plays an entirely reputable type. Marco Gentile is a lawyer and the CEO of an automobile company, an achievement that feels a long way away from his roots in southern Italy, where he was raised in the hyper-idyllic mountain town of Acerenza.

A crisis at the auto company he was trying to turn eco-friendly forces him to quit his job. While his corporate-minded wife, Marina (Wendy Crewson), is alarmed by his decision, Marco seeks respite in the town where he was born.

There, after being confronted by an array of charming characters — many childhood friends, now aged — Marco takes up residence in his grandfather’s old estate. He discovers the vineyards are only just being maintained by a caretaker hired by the town, and Marco gets the idea of investing his and his wife’s retirement savings into getting the place running again.

Farpoint Films</p><p>Joe Pantoliano plays Marco Gentile, who travels back to his hometown in rural Italy to reset his moral compass.</p>

Farpoint Films

Joe Pantoliano plays Marco Gentile, who travels back to his hometown in rural Italy to reset his moral compass.

Back in Toronto, Marina and their daughter Laura (Paula Brancati, who also has a producer credit) are alarmed by the suspicious financial activity and book tickets to Italy to bring dad back before he well and truly goes off the deep end.

There is a case to be made that he’s already made that jump. As he tends to the grapevines, he follows the lead of the caretaker and talks to the plants, only to discover they are talking back to him.

Cisterna layers the proceedings with similar touches of magic realism, but the film never really aspires to much beyond being a travelogue with a modestly pleasant narrative hook (courtesy of screenwriter Willem Wennekers, working from a novel by Kenneth Canio Cancellara).

As a matter of fact, this happens to be a very good time for a travelogue-style film. The film’s fanciful touches offset the rather grim reality Italy recently endured because of the pandemic. It feels timely to have a reminder of what makes the place — and this specific place in southern Italy — so worthy of visiting, even if that pleasure may not be afforded us in the next while.

It’s always a pleasure to see how Crewson manages to flesh out characters that are thin on the page, and Brancati (Workin’ Moms) gets a nice character arc in the role of a young woman eager to leave her father’s shadow.

It’s mostly Pantoliano’s show, and he makes for an unusual and fun bit of casting for a role that would typically go to someone like Andy Garcia or Richard Gere.

Sometimes it pays to not take the safe bet… as any Bogie fan knows.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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