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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday, September 16, 2014 - Edition No 915 
Reckoning

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BEST OFFER, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a solitary, cultured man whose reluctance to engage with others, especially women, is matched only by the dogged obsessiveness with which he practices his profession as a high-end antiques auctioneer and valuer at the top of his career. One day Virgil receives a phone call from a mysterious young heiress, Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), who asks him to evaluate her deceased family's works of art, housed in a large villa. It will be the beginning of a complex and turbulent - but physically distant - relationship that will change his life forever...

Review by Louise Keller:
A stunning performance by Geoffrey Rush elevates this beguiling tale that explores authenticity and all its priceless facets - from the elite art world to that of human emotions. Cinema Paradiso's Giuseppe Tornatore has artfully created a reality that allows his refined protagonist Virgil Oldman (Rush) to not only be credible, but for us to understand him. This rich characterisation is the basis on which the exposition relies and the tumultuous roller-coaster ride on offer delivers enough juice to squeeze us dry. There are moments when our credibility is stretched; it's as though we are on a boat that is lurching from side to side before returning to equilibrium. The film is a character study, love story, mystery and thriller with devastating twists and turns that constantly surprise.

In the opening scenes, we are invited into the beauty-filled, sophisticated world of Virgil Oldman. The first thing we notice is that he is extremely precise, can spot a fake artwork in an instant and is always in control - whether at the helm of a prestige art auction or dining alone in an upmarket restaurant. He is difficult, demanding and solitary. 'Talking to people is perilous,' he says. As for his extensive glove collection (his obsession), the dedicated wardrobe in which they are displayed is not dissimilar to that of Sarah Jessica Parker's shelves accommodating her shoe fetish in Sex and the City. But it is the secret room concealed behind the gloves, in which priceless paintings of classic, female beauties hang from floor to ceiling in his own private art gallery that represent his passion - a lifetime of investment on every level, including that of a relationship.

There is another secret room - one behind an ornate mural in the villa whose valuable antique contents are being assessed by Oldman, and in which its owner Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) apparently lives. The set up in which Oldman becomes intrigued by Claire and the bizarre circumstances that follow as they communicate through walls is constructed with great credibility, enhanced by the skill of Rush's nuanced performance. Like Oldman, we are fascinated by Claire - the moment when Oldman hides behind a statue in the adjacent room to simply see her for the first time, is voyeuristic to the extreme.

Also fascinating is the relationship between Oldman and Donald Sutherland's rogue art colleague Billy Whistler and that of Oldman's fix-it friend Robert (Jim Sturgess), who is trying to assemble a rare automaton from parts found in the villa. There is a barrage of questions: What is Claire's story? What is the relevance of the astronomical clock in Prague and who is the dwarf in the coffee shop opposite, who remembers everything?

The Best Offer is filled with delectable moments as the pendulum of authenticity and fakery swings. All the performances are superb and the casting spot on, while the relationship between Oldman and Claire forms the rich heart of the film. The names are symbolic, too - keep your wits about you and don't miss any of the clues. I like the note of optimism on which the film ends.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame) goes to great lengths to mask the identity of the European city in which his story is set, as a kind of metaphor perhaps for the mysterious Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) who doesn't show herself in public ... hell, she doesn't even show herself in private. Instead of adding anything to the film's success, it reduces the film to existing in a geographic limbo, which only works in the most assured surrealistic movie. Which this isn't. But it is a slightly absurd movie, though not absurdist by intent.

Although I spied a Swiss registration plate on one vehicle, the city could be any old European metropolis with grand architecture and old villas hiding in new cul de sacs. Tornatore adds to the confusion by populating the film with English characters, even the barman of the corner café, which is unsettling. And then there is Billy Whistler played by Canadian Donald Sutherland, an old friend and accomplice of Virgil's who turns out to be a surprise - as does Jim Sturgess' lower middle class English tinkerer, Robert.

We only hear Claire's voice for over half the film, as a victim of acute agoraphobia she locks herself in a small apartment in the old villa, from where she can peek out and make calls ...

We meet Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) as a precise, punctilious, perhaps even supercilious antiques expert and wealthy auctioneer who wears one of his dozens of pairs of gloves to keep out any contaminants from the outside world. And he still uses hankies to handle phones ... he doesn't own a mobile, he has an officious relationship with his long serving secretary Lambert (Dermot Crowley).

Elaborate though it is, the establishment of Virgil's weak spot and Clair's vulnerability are all -important in what turns out to be a psychological thriller wrapped around a love story - of sorts. Tornatore forces a mannered performance onto Rush and the treatment of the Claire character is seriously far fetched. The film begins as an intriguing study of an intelligent but emotionally dead man who loves beautiful art and secretly collects portraits of all sorts of women across the art ages - the closest he gets to the real thing.

The point of this is clear enough as the drama unfolds, but it throws the film off balance. The film is also weighed down by inconsistencies and unlikely behaviours (eg Virgil can't make eye contact when introduced to Robert's pretty black bikie girlfriend, but she later seeks him out for help with her relationship). Much is made of the findings in the villa of cogs and wheels, parts of what Virgil and Robert discover to be a priceless automaton; Robert goes about reconstructing it in parallel to his advice to Virgil on how to construct his emotional state, viz Claire. It's a rather heavy handed way to building the metaphor and is ultimately found to be as much a sleight of hand as everything else. It would have seemed less perfunctory and manipulative if we saw Virgil actually collect more than two of the smaller mechanical items, instead of having them already 'found' in Robert's workshop.

In an all-too clever device, Tornatore uses a mysterious mathematically gifted dwarf (Sydney-born Kurina Stamell) seated at the window of the aforementioned corner café as the key to unlock a nasty mystery for which Virgil is totally unprepared. As aren't we. The machinery is all too exposed in this disappointing work from a great filmmaker; none of it rings true ... and that's not about what isn't meant to ring true.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

BEST OFFER, THE (M)
(Italy, 2013)

La migliore offerta

CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Sylvia Hoeks, Jim Sturgess, Philip Jackson, Liya Kebede, Dermot Crowley

PRODUCER: Isabella Cocuzza, Arturo Paglia

DIRECTOR: Giuseppe Tornatore

SCRIPT: Giuseppe Tornatore

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fabio Zamarion

EDITOR: Massimo Quaglia

MUSIC: Ennior Morricone

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maurazio Sabatini

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 29, 2013







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