"Caught in the Web"
"Caught in the Web"
It doesn't take much to make me happy: just a perfect Northern California spring day, five movies playing in eclectic venues within easy walking distance of a historic town square, and a festive and fancy free dinner (with wine) thrown in.

As usual, the hardest part was choosing which of five (or six) movies to go see in any of the five time slots, intelligently labelled Early Morning, Late Morning, Afternoon, Early Evening, and Late Evening.  And not that I even chose all that well: "In Montauk," my 10 a.m. pick, was a rather thin if stylishly shot love triangle with a particularly unpleasant female protagonist and a particularly attractive male lead, that felt padded at 68 minutes (that said, it won the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Woods Hole Film Festival and Best Director at the Toronto Independent Film Festival). But it was shown at Mia's Kitchen at the Vintage House, set up with little round tables with four seats each, and it turns out I'm a sucker for free coffee and bagels with cream cheese and wooden spoons marked MK.

"Caught in the Web," my 12:45 pick, is Chen Kaige's latest (as China's official choice for Best Foreign Film, it did not make the short list).  I wonder what China is trying to tell us, because the society that's portrayed in the film is singularly unattractive: soulless, ugly, venal, shallow, seduced by status symbols, and in thrall to technology that transmits lies instantaneously. (Hot tip: don't trust the internet.) Whew! I wouldn't go to the mat for Chen Kaige, but if his name wasn't right there on the screen, it never would have occurred to me that he directed this rather hot mess -- which ended at least five or six times.  This particular venue, the New Belgium Lounge at Burlingame Hall, will sell you a beer to take to your seat. My experience is not noticeably enhanced by the woman sitting in front of me who has managed to arrive, shall we say, already overserved, and proceeds to spill her latest beer dangerously near me.  Smell-o-vision!

After the morning slots, I love the wine triple bill I assembled: at 3:15, "Cannubi: A Vineyard Kissed by God," a 28-minute passion project by James Orr (Hollywood vet who wrote "3 Men and a Baby" and "Sister Act 2") about the Cannubi appellation of Nebbiolo grapes that are made into famed and pricey Barolo wine, and how owners of adjacent vineyards with the appellation Cannubi Muscatel or Cannubi Valletta wanted to use the Cannubi name on its own -- so their wines could command higher prices; and "Lo Zucco: The wine of the son of the King of the French," another passion project from director Lidia Rizzo, about the Duke of Aumale, the richest man in France, and exiled to Sicily after his father Louis Philippe , the last king of France, was overthrown and exiled to England. 

The Duke created a world-famous vineyard in Sicily -- a saga romantically illustrated with period photographs housed in the Conde Museum, in the chateau that also belonged to the Duke, who bequeathed it to France. It's hard to explain just how charming I found this story, told in earthy Italian from Sicilians who remember the legends of their forebears, and oracular French from the keepers of the Conde treasures, including the greatest library of its time, assembled by the Duke -- a man of taste with the money to back it up. Rizzo brought seductive little soft almond cookies with her, wrapped in "Lo Zucco" papers -- a sensual way to sell a film. As I leave the venue -- Mia's Kitchen, again -- I cast a wistful backward glance at the trays of penne topped with marinara or garlic & onion sauce that are the lagniappe for the attendees of the upcoming 6:45 screening. ("The meatballs they served at the lunchtime screening were really terrific," a volunteer tells me, rubbing salt and Parmesan into the wound.)