“Better than Wine” written, produced and directed by Charles Tashiro is a short turn of the century costume drama focusing on four friends gathering for lunch on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. As the film meanders along its journey, we see that although these people may seem to be together on the outside, that isn’t necessarily true of them all. Do any of them actually have happiness in their lives? And do we even care?
As our two couples meet for lunch, we see that one couple is having an issue in marital affairs while the other couple composed of a physician and his seemingly much older wife don’t actually seem to like their friends all that much. It’s never really put out there why that may be, just like it’s never really put out there why the one couple has stopped having “relations” as they say (other than the wife seems to just be a cold hearted and insecure jerk) or why it is that the physician wanders along for an incredibly long walk after lunch only to finally sit on a bench in the middle of the woods to start sobbing. Nothing here is explained and nothing here is self-explanatory. Nothing is ever resolved and I’m not quite sure what the story line is supposed to be. There’s just a lot of talk and a lot of scenes and then it’s over, leaving the viewer feeling apathy rather than empathy for these characters.
And speaking of the talk, the dialogue was stilted and the actors were wooden. Mostly this turn of the century drama seemed to have dropped people from our era into the turn of the century, people who didn’t quite understand the words they were using but who gave it their best shot anyway. The lines are clunky at best and one line doesn’t always necessarily make sense in context with the next. Much like the plot, nothing seems to follow anything else here which is distracting at best and dull at worst.
The one thing “Better than Wine” has going for it is an excellent director of photography and location scout. The scenery is beautiful and the way the camera plays with the natural light is stunning, particularly the aforementioned shot of the physician crying in the woods. Bravo to these people who were able to salvage something out of what was otherwise an overly long experiment in a convention that has seen much better days.
I’m not sure where to place blame here or if blame should even be placed on anyone. I admire anyone who is passionate enough to create a piece of artwork that they care deeply about, something that is meaningful to them for whatever reason that may be but they should understand that they won’t always make those reasons clear to the audience unfortunately. I didn’t like any of the characters in this piece and I didn’t see any compelling reason why I was supposed to. Perhaps I should have jumped to a series of conclusions such as the doctor was sobbing in the middle of nowhere because he’s secretly unhappy with his marriage and having an affair with the wife of the other man. Or maybe it’s just that the beauty of the area overwhelmed him. Or maybe even just that lunch was truly atrocious. I don’t know. And for that reason, I can’t in good faith recommend “Better than Wine”. I think it has the feel of a first draft, a rough cut, and I think with some extra time given in to it, it could possibly become something more. I will say I’m curious as to what Mr. Tashiro comes up with next and how it fares compared to this work.
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