“What would it be like if you had an angel in your life? Would you get everything you want? And if you did get everything you want, would that be a good thing?”
As we sit down for an interview with Niki Caro, 43, we’re not really prepared for such philosophical musings. Given the director’s previous works, though, perhaps we should be. The New Zealand native first rose to international attention with 2002’s "Whale Rider," which played to standing ovations at the Toronto and Sundance film festivals and garnered a Best Actress Oscar nod for its young star, Keisha Castle-Hughes. Caro followed in 2005 with the critically acclaimed drama "North Country," starring heavy-hitter Charlize Theron. Given the fact that both films feature strong female characters struggling in a sexist environment, it’s easy to assume that the feminist message is a conscious directorial decision.
“It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?” Caro says with a chuckle. “They’re both kind of simple stories of empowerment. Yet there’s a lot more going on in both of those films if you care to engage with them.”
Caro found time to sit down during her promotional tour for "The Vintner’s Luck," a fantasy-cum-romance based on a novel by Elizabeth Knox that Caro describes as “more about our shared humanity than about just being female.” Sobran Jodeau (Jeremie Renier), a peasant on a chateau in 19th-century France, is convinced that he can create a truly great wine. His pursuit of the perfect vin is shaped by the three great relationships in his life: with his unstable wife Celeste (Keisha Castle-Hughes), his employer Baroness Aurora (Vera Farmiga) and the angel Xas (Gaspard Ulliel).
While adapting a novel for the screen always brings the challenge of remaining faithful to the source material, having an angel in the film introduced even greater complications—especially given the relatively low budget. “We had to be rather inventive,” Caro explains. “The biggest physical challenge was making the wings. Not making them in a computer, because we couldn’t afford it, but to actually make them so that I could direct them in time and space.”
For a film like "The Vintner’s Luck," which delves into the world of wine in a sensory, tactile way, Caro also faced the daunting task of describing that world despite not being a connoisseur herself. Her solution was to write to several winemakers around New Zealand and ask them a question: what does an old vintner know that a young one doesn’t? “The responses were just so poetic and profound and practical and funny,” she explains. “I realized then that winemaking and filmmaking were so similar that I didn’t need to know everything to understand this man’s journey.”
Caro, who says she often visits Japan, is hopeful that the film will be well-received here, especially given the recent wine boom. “I love that wine is becoming very popular here, because you taste life,” she says.
Caro says she has no grand plan for the future, but is looking forward to working with Jennifer Aniston in her next project, a “funny and sweet” indie currently titled "Buttercup."
_This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).___© Japan Today