November 18, 2019
by Carla Hay
Directed by Laura Naylor
French with subtitles
World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.
If you’ve ever wondered about some of the people behind the making of French champagne, you’ll get a look in “Vas-y Coupe!,” a candid but slow-paced peek into the crucial harvesting process. “Vas-y Coupe!” translates to “Go ahead, cut!” in English. This movie focuses on Jacques Selosse, a family-run vineyard in France’s Champagne region and what happens during harvest season. The documentary was inspired by director Laura Naylor’s real-life experiences harvesting grapes at the vineyard in 2016, about a year after she first discovered the vineyard through a sommelier friend.
Founded in the 1950s, Jacques Selosse is located in the small village of Avize, and much of the culture in the movie feels like a 1950s time warp. The roles of the men and women are, for the most part, sharply segregated by gender. Although there are a few harvesters who are female (and they’re briefly spotted on camera), the male harvesters and their male supervisors get most of the focus in this documentary. The women in the film are primarily shown in the kitchen and fulfilling the roles of cooks, food servers and maids. The women are preoccupied with preparing meals and trying on beauty products, while the men do the dirty work of picking and distilling the grapes. Even with the Selosse family that owns the vineyard, the men in the family are the ones who get to taste and evaluate the company’s product made from the harvested grapes.
In addition to the gender lines that are clearly defined, there are also class lines that are almost never crossed. The laborers know their place as servants, and there’s sometimes tension with the vineyard owners/supervisors over wage issues. The rough-and-tumble nature of this working-class crew sometimes leads to them clashing with each other, as minor squabbles are captured on camera. But if you’re looking for shocking, dramatic moments, you won’t find them here in this mostly quiet film. To its credit, what’s shown in this movie doesn’t look staged, like a reality show.
But to its detriment, the movie suffers from editing that shows too much repetition of mundane tasks. It’s not necessary for viewers to keep seeing similar scenes of the women in the kitchen discussing the meals they’re preparing, followed by scenes of the women serving the meals to the laborers gathered in the dining room area. In order for a documentary like this to stand out, there has to be at least one big, riveting personality to keep viewers interested, but the people in this movie are just too average to make this a compelling story. And unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down in so much “slice of life” footage that the end result is a documentary that is duller than it should be.