The Tuscany region of Italy is a lifestyle documentarian’s dream. Artisans work one of Earth’s most gorgeous countrysides to produce fabulous wine, food and handicrafts. Dakkan Abbe’s camera successfully captures the beauty of buildings and street scenes, delving into visual details with concerted care. But a lack of point of view, or even a command of knowledge regarding wine and food and their traditions, make “Inside the Tuscan Hills” a mangled travelogue that fails to go deep beyond the stunning images.
The script of Dakkan and Camille Abbe sounds like a brochure attempting to piece together snippets of historical fact from the 15th and 16th centuries with ripe, puffed-up stories about whichever shop-restaurant they happen to be visiting. Some of the commentary from Camille, who reads the scripts with unabating stiffness, is laughable — “Pancetta. Yum. Fragrant pancetta.” — or worse, inaccurate, as when she states Chianti is home to Italy’s most famous wine, Chianti Classico. Chianti could be classified as Italy’s best-known wine, Chianti Classico is a zone and a wine.
The Abbes have divided the series into six segments, tackling different areas in each — Chianti; Chianti, Siena and Volterra; Montepulciano and Val D’Orcia; Montalcino and the Maremma, etc. Each is structured exactly the same, with shots of town squares, vacant streets, extraordinary panoramas of farms and vineyards, and then a step into a kitchen or an iron smith’s shop or vinegar maker’s cellar.
Yet while they allow a honey maker, an olive oil producer and chef explain — and even bask in — their traditional methodology and the effect of topography and climate on their products, they never once venture into the subject when discussing wine. Winemaking is the one pursuit in Italy where internationalism has threatened the locals and their methods the most, for reasons ranging from foreign ownership to the modernization of techniques to the introduction of nonlocal grape varieties.
In Montalcino, for example, the duo visit the Banfi winery, yet fail to explain that this winery is the antithesis of older Brunello makers. Now American-owned, the winery has been at the forefront of technological innovation in the vineyard and in the winery. Its product (a fine wine, mind you), hardly resembles the traditional Brunello di Montalcino wines still made by Biondi Santi, Le Machioche and Salicutti. Without stating a preference for the tradition-bearers or modernists, their stance becomes muddied; to not make that clear-cut distinction in a documentary such as this is a considerable misstep.