Waiting for a new film by Giuseppe Tornatore has always been an eagerly anticipated event – more so when we’re usually kept waiting for years between each of his little gems. The maestro’s latest drama, “La migliore offerta” [Eng. Title: The Best Offer] reaffirms the fact that this will continue to be the case.
Tornatore almost pulls off a Hitchcock with the well executed thriller, in terms of detail, timing, and atmosphere. It is also his first foray into making a film completely in English, which perhaps is also its Achilles’ heel, but more on that later…
Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) has remained a bachelor all his life, investing all his passion in art from an early age – he is now not only a well-respected art expert, but also a much sought after auctioneer. He has made a fortune through his trade, but also through shady deals that enabled him to build a secret art collection of his own, mostly of prized female portraiture dating from the late middle ages. His hitherto comfortable but uneventful life is nevertheless interrupted, through a call from a mysterious young woman who begs him to catalogue and auction her inheritance.
Upon visiting her mansion, he’s firstly put-off by the fact that the woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), wanted him to start the work without her presence – she’d been so reclusive that even the caretaker hasn’t seen her in the ten years he’s been working there. Claire has agoraphobia, and hasn’t left the mansion in many years, Virgil will learn later, which will intrigue, fascinate, and eventually lead to his infatuation – Claire will become the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen or experienced in his whole life.
At the same time during the film, a new plot device (literally) is inserted when Virgil becomes interested in pieces from a movement belonging to an automata (mechanical toy) lying uncared for in Claire’s mansion. He takes it to his friend, a fixer of mechanical bric-à-brac – Robert (Jim Sturgess), and they determine that it dates from the eighteenth century. Virgil sets about collecting the remaining pieces from the mansion to secretly assemble them at Robert’s workshop. Robert, a ladies’ man, will also tutor Virgil on ways to win women, which Virgil will put to use in pursuit of Claire…
The film begins with a lot of expectation, thanks to Tornatore’s customary meticulous characterisation, and the manner in which he lays an air of mystery surrounding Claire. This is also thanks to yet another fine soundtrack from Ennio Morricone (he cunningly also misleads us on a couple of occasions), and a commanding performance from one of Britain’s finest actors working today, Geoffrey Rush. He keeps us engaged for most of the film, and Donald Sutherland too makes a small but important appearance as Billy, Virgil’s friend and co-conspirator in the shady side of their business.
The oddest aspect of the film however, is the characters conversing in English – some even talk in cockney accent, in a setting that’s most certainly somewhere in Italy (and briefly in The Czech Republic). Either because of that, the dialogues, even if perfectly delivered by the strong cast, prevents you from getting fully engaged with the plot. A few ‘twists’ are telegraphed well in advance, but the final scene is however totally unexpected – a nice little touch, which more or less redeems the film’s virtue as a thriller. But having said that, I don’t really care whether this is a thriller or a drama – for me it is an ‘authentic’ Tornatore, and that is priceless art in itself. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Sylvia Hoeks
The Dutch-born actress plays the enigmatic Claire, and will also appear nude on a couple of occasions – first when Virgil spies on Claire after pretending to have left the mansion, and later when Virgil bathes and takes her to bed.