English Title: The Best Offer
Original Title: La migliore offerta
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Mystery
Director/Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cinematography: Fabio Zamarion
A confidence game has been precisely deployed around a high-flying auction house owner, Virgil Oldman (Rush), also an authoritative antiquity and art connoisseur in acclaimed Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore’s tenth feature film THE BEST OFFER.
Virgil, a cantankerous, germophobic, haughty, inveterate bachelor, is not the usual protagonist one can easily rally our compassion for when we get the feeling that something is iffy around his escalating obsession with an agoraphobic heiress Claire Ibbetson (Hoeks, a stunner), his latest client living inside a dilapidated villa with large collections for auction, who refuses to materialize herself in front of him, and claims that her severe condition has rendered her incapable of leaving her premise for over a decade.
Intrigued by Claire’s unique symptom (often manifested with spasmodic mood swings), the curiosity of what she looks like and the accidental discovery of some mechanic pieces of an ancient automaton, which he brings to a young tinkerer Robert (Sturgess) whom he befriends recently to re-assemble (and who soon will become his counselor of his blossoming courtship), Oldman returns to Claire’s villa time and again, gradually, Claire’s reclusiveness relents, and Oldman’s curiosity evolves into affection, when she finally braves herself to meet him face to face, he is totally smitten, after a life-or-death imperative forces her to set her feet outside the villa off her own bat, which ostensibly also proves her reciprocal feelings to him, Virgil brings her to his home and shows her his priceless, life-long collection of a roomful of female portraits (from Raphael, Titian, Andrea del Sarto and Dürer, among others, the ne plus ultra of a cinematic visual feat), which he has amassed through the help of Billy Whistler (Sutherland), who buys these artworks in the auctions at his beck and call.
Then guess what happens after? Both his collections and Claire vanishingly disappear, only a half-assembled automaton is left to mock the hoodwinked Virgil, who can discern even the most imperceptible traits of art forgery but not the mendacity of love, but, as usual, Tornatore leavens Virgil’s mishap with a vestigial touch of sentimentality, perhaps Claire does carry a tinge of affection for him after all, only next to the assiduously contrived subterfuge, its import instantly is subsumes into fractional.
Admittedly, Tornatore splurges on the film’s fancy-looking production to grant audience a peek of a tony and posh world that is inaccessible to the mass, a merit this reviewer cannot appreciate more, and finds great ally from Morricone’s equally high-end musical sophistication, also Geoffrey Rush is remarkably versatile in Virgil’s slow metamorphosis from an obnoxious enfant terrible to a besotted love fool, who is able to earn our sympathy bit by bit not because he is becoming a better human being but a human being at all. Although as a psychological thriller, THE BEST OFFER is shy of suspense and narrative flourishes, but in terms of character study and widening our horizon, it is grandly worthwhile.
referential entries: Tornatore’s CINEMA PARADISO (1988, 8.3/10), THE LEGEND OF 1900 (1998, 7.7/10), MALÈNA (2000, 8.2/10).