Everyone loves a good falsification story, even if it’s hard, in filmic terms, to reach the level of F for Fake. Sour Grapes, a new documentary by Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, speaks about what would usually be an exclusive market, that of elite wine collecting, and how a young man managed to (almost) fool them all.
Rudy Kurniawan, a young, Asian looking man, very silent about his background, started making waves in the wine market around the early 2000s. Buying expensive bottles, making famous friends in California and offering them rare wines, he made a lot of money through his actions. No one knew exactly where his money was coming from, but no one ever doubted his excellent taste and tasting abilities. But when a French wine producer, Laurent Ponsot, saw a bottle from his vineyard from a year that didn’t have production, the domino effect started around Kurniawan, as FBI and the Frenchman uncovered a massive one-man con operation.
Mostly featuring interviews of people that met or knew Kurniawan personally, were deceived by him or helped put him in prison, as well as archive footage of the man himself indulging in his favourite activity, drinking wine, Sour Grapes would always suffer from being a retrospective documentary, lacking the power of something happening in real time as cameras roll. It also does the film no favours that it tries, messily, to do a lot of things in its first 20 minutes, including explaining the wine industry to outsiders, showing lovely vineyards in France and introducing the film’s main subject, giving a disjointed impression that fails to engage. But perhaps what makes it a reasonable documentary instead of a great one, is the absence of cinematic storytelling, ignored to give space to an almost journalistic approach. Instead of a story that is fed to the audience bit by bit, building tension and curiosity, we have a straightforward “this is what happened, and let’s dwell on the details for the next hour and a half”, taking away most of the entertainment value.
Still, Sour Grapes is technically good, with some good montages and cinematography, and it does tell a very interesting, slightly outrageous story – and yet, how many of us wouldn’t like to stick it to the wine snob, just as Kurniawan managed to do. If by the end, it’s not clear whether he did it for the money, or was just drowned by his expensive wine obsession, you still feel a little sad when, during the final credits, you see all those old bottles (a mix of vintages with cheaper wines) being destroyed by the FBI…
Sour Grapes was released in UK cinemas on 15th September 2016