and vino have always gone together, ever since Montresor offed Fortunato in “A
Cask of Amontillado,” so who would make a better amateur sleuth than an enologist
(wine expert)? For a vintner accused of
murder, Benjamin Lebel is the man to call in Blood of the Vine (promo here), seasons one and two, now available as
two separate 2-DVD sets from MHz Networks.
the series opener, Tears of Pasquin, the
Bordeaux based Lebel puts the moves on an attractive colleague, France
Pelletier. She is mature enough to
consider his assistants, Mathilde and Silvère, wet-behind-the-ears kids, but
she is still young enough to look good on his arm. Over the next two seasons, she will become
accustomed to having romantic dinners and weekend getaways interrupted by
Pasquin happens to be
one of the series’ more intriguing crime stories. What appears to be a serial killer case
ultimately involves the nasty legacy of Vichy era collaboration. That still
seems bold for French television. Pasquin also introduces Lebel to
Commander Barbaroux of the Bordeaux police force, who is admittedly befuddled
by the rare bottles of Pasquin left at multiple murder scenes. He calls in Lebel as a consultant, but quickly
Silvère looks different in Le Coup de
Jarnac, but replacement Yoann Denaive and the rest of the regulars will
stick around for the balance of the first two seasons. Hired to audit the storied Aludel cognac
distillery divided by feuding siblings, Lebel and his assistant receive a
rather frosty reception at the chateau.
However, Lebel is quite welcome at the tavern in town co-owned by his
old flame, Shirley. Unfortunately, the legendary
mixer and friendliest Aludel heir falls victim to an untimely accident.
Vine often features well
known guest stars (at least to French audiences), such as Marisa Berenson, the
co-star of films like Barry Lyndon and
Cabaret, as well as a one-time guest
host of The Muppet Show. As Shirley, she and series star Pierre Arditi
have a nice wistfully flirtatious thing going on.
Margaux’s Robe features another
notable guest star, Arditi’s daughter Rachel, playing Lebel’s daughter,
Margaux. Recently, returned from New
York, Margaux Lebel has accepted a PR job with a new Chateau owner who is
absolutely, positively not a member of the Russian mob. When sabotage kills Margaux’s co-worker-lover
and badly injures her, the Soviet educated Swiss mogul puts pressure on Lebel
to solve the case quickly or he will do it his way, which adds a good twist to
the first season ends with one of the better crafted mysteries, while also
challenging Lebel’s loyalties. When a
former assistant’s struggling chateau is beset by a suspicious outbreak, Lebel
comes to investigate. Knowing the grand
dame who once fired him covets their land, Lebel pays a visit to the regal Mme.
Newman. Both Arditi and Judith Magre
(probably best known for Louis Malle’s The
Lovers) clearly relish their affectionately acid-dripped banter.
two begins with A Question of Brandy . .
. or Death. Once again, Lebel and
his assistants have been hired to assess a struggling distillery. In this case, it is the Baron Castayrac who
expects Lebel to simply sign off on his insurance claim, but the enologist does
not play that game. Pretty much every
key element of the series comes into play in this episode, with a union boss of
questionable repute thrown in as an added bonus.
in Sauternes might
be one of Vine’s best episodes,
thanks to a surprisingly touching performance from Dominique Pinon (Micmacs, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement)
as Milou Savin, the ailing friend of an elderly wine collecting couple gunned
down by a presumed thief. On the other
hand, the subplot in which Silvère does everything possible to make himself a
suspect gets quickly tiresome.
Setbacks in the Loire Valley starts off with a clever murder
set-up. A famous actor accidentally kills
his co-star wife when a stage gun is replaced with the real deal. There are betrayals all over the place and of
course, a wine cellar, but what really distinguishes the episode is pro-handgun
theme. A victim of an awful crime at a
young age, Mathilde now carries a piece and she knows how to use it—a fact that
comes in handy.
is major preoccupation in Vine, for
obvious reasons. In The Silky Widows Lebel finds himself in the middle of a power
struggle between a recently widowed matriarch and her less recently widowed
daughter-in-law. On the positive side,
he finally gets an opportunity to craft his first champagne.
Blood of the
a good mystery series for Memorial Day viewing.
Unlike typically urban noirs, most of the action takes place in
sun-drenched fields and picturesque chateaus.
It definitely skews towards an older audience, but there is considerably
more hanky-panky and tons more drinking than in Murder She Wrote. Much like
BBC mysteries, each installment clocks in around an hour and a half, so there
is time for a fair amount of plot development.
Still, it is usually easy to spot the murderers. They are the ones who have had their
characters established, but do not seem to have something specific to do.
A regular presence in Alain Resnais films,
Arditi looks like he enjoys the rich trappings of Lebel’s rarified world. Vaguely
resembling musician John McLaughlin, he rather nicely balances the mature and mischievous
aspects of Lebel’s persona. There is
nothing revolutionary here, but it is all quite pleasant and
sophisticated. Recommended for
Francophiles and cozy mystery fans, Blood
of the Vine is now available on DVD from MHz Networks.
Labels: DVD, French Television, Pierre Arditi