DOC NYC ’19 Review: An Experiment in Terroir Unfolds in Laura Naylor’s “Vas-y-Coupe!”

When “Vas-y Coupe!” begins, you’re likely to be more comfortable in one of the two worlds that Laura Naylor introduces you to than the other. In the city, a group of tattooed, world weary workers have gathered for barbecue and beers while in the countryside, a family prepares to break open a 20-year-old bottle of wine, wondering whether it’s the right thing to accompany a main course of lamb. Naylor cuts back and forth between the two until it becomes apparent that they are connected by the harvest as the arrival of grape season brings the workers to the family’s vineyards in France, and while it’s suggested that an upstairs/downstairs drama will commence, the filmmaker presents something unexpectedly gentler, a summery excursion for audiences abroad that doesn’t ignore the hard reality of how much time and energy goes into every bottle of champagne.

The juxtaposition of workers freely throwing around the f-word and knocking back beers as they snip grapes off the vine for such a refined product is immediately compelling, but Naylor and editor Virginie Danglades do well to gradually expand “Vas-y-Coupe”’s perspective to the entire ecosystem of the orchard, visiting the kitchen where the women of the family pull out seemingly endless amounts of butter to make breakfast and dinner for the men before and after their work in the fields and the vintner and his son, seen as an heir to the business, test out what the season has yielded. There’s concern in the first few days that there are fewer grapes than in previous years, and those that there are have turned up rotten, but the main source of intrigue is Naylor’s collection of all the largely unseen and unglamorous yet fascinating steps that keep such an operation going, making the eventual clinks of glasses in celebration especially resounding.

Rather than awkwardly suggest people put their soul into the champagne to give it body, “Vas-y-Coupe” suggests the opposite in showing how the annual harvest brings out the humanity of all involved, whether showing the kitchen staff preparing large meals with the kind of care and consideration they would close relatives or the workers idling away their off-hours dancing to “Despacito” as a rare carefree moment in their otherwise tough lives. The fact that these men would likely never be able to afford to drink the fruits of their labor away from the vineyard isn’t ignored, yet Naylor strikes the right balance in emphasizing the challenges at all levels of the operation, the dignity of the work and the satisfaction it provides, underlined nicely by Ryan de Franco’s elegant cinematography and Brian Bender and Deniz Cuylan’s equally graceful score. Befitting of the beverage that is ultimately produced in “Vas-y-Coupe,” the chronicle of a season in wine country offers a gratifying taste of life there.

“Vas-y-Coupe” will screen once more at DOC NYC on November 13th at 4:10 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea.