- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS Four refugees from Zimbabwe make careers as sommeliers in South Africa. Some years later, they enter the World Wine Blind Tasting Championships. DOCUMENTARY SOUTH AFRICA / AUSTRALIA #BLINDAMBITION
Starring Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin and Padon
Rather like the unexpected achievement of Jamaica’s bobsleigh team, so it is for four Zimbabwean sommeliers who hope to win The World Wine Blind Tasting Championships. It’s an event held in Burgandy, France and epitomises Stuff White People Like. So what did the Old World establishment make of these New World upstarts attempting to tip order on its head? This is the stuff BLIND AMBITION.
Joseph, Tinashe, Marlvin and Padon are refugees from Zimbabwe who hope for a better life in South Africa. Through separate routes they meet one another over their new found passion for and wine. How they become professional sommeliers is only one of the more interesting aspects of this documentary. How they become convinced they’ve got a serious chance to tilt at the establishment is another. Along the way, this heartwarming tale takes on inevitable social issues of politics, immigration, racism and economics, bound by the soul-searching question of what does the notion of ‘home’ mean to each of the men. None of the answers are as straight-forward as you might expect.
The Championship is won by the team who can correctly identify the country / vintage / vineyard / grape type etc of twenty wines simply by tasting them. No easy task, but one these men seem more than capable of achieving. They take on a coach, they take on a second coach, they get crowd-funding and before you can say ‘full-bodied’ they’re flying to France.
BLIND AMBITION is filmed with obvious enthusiasm by Australian’s Robert Coe and Warwick Ross. They know wine, having explored China’s passion for its social caché in 2013’s RED OBSESSION. Although this has feel-good poured into every moment of the documentary, it isn’t as robust as their earlier film. For while we get to know much about the competition process and quite a lot about each of the men, there are so many questions left unanswered: how did these inexperienced refugees rise so quickly in such a rarified industry? What convinced them to compete in the Championships? Was their second coach a good idea? What did it feel like, taking on the old, white, guard on home turf? Sliding around these points doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but tackling them would have been a deeper experience had Coe and Ross.
None the less, there’s more than enough narrative tension to hold your attention, and the (many) dreamy location shots in France and Africa are bewitching. BLIND AMBITION is easy going and leaves you in a the kind of warm and fuzzy place you find yourself after a couple of glasses of wine. Maybe that’s the point.