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MIFF Film Review: The Best Offer

Thursday 8 August 2013

MIFF Film Review: The Best Offer

New releases with great casts often create oodles of hype and elevated expectations. The benefit of this exposure is critical recognition and mass promotion of the film to a wide audience through association with other fine actors. The drawback however, is the pressure to produce an outstanding final product to support the integrity of the cast. The Best Offer is one film in the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival program that balances the edge of this conundrum as a highly anticipated film for this year.

The Best Offer follows Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), a highly regarded, opulent antiques and art auctioneer. By day he values the rare and exclusive in between lavish meals and champagne (always for one) at the luxurious hotel he calls home, and by night he seeks comfort in his private collection of exclusive female portraits, acquired by criminal means with friend Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland). Virgil is irritable and callous; content with this monotonous series of routines he calls a ‘life’. However, in a rare moment when he actually answers his own phone, he receives a call from Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) asking if he could value the collection of antiques and art in her deceased parents’ villa. Upon first arrival he discovers a collection of mechanical parts, that together with the help of friendly engineer Robert (Jim Sturgess) they rebuild an antique automaton. After a series of no-shows from Claire and with Virgil’s patience wearing thin, he forcefully discovers that Claire has agoraphobia and confines herself to a room in the villa when she has company. Soon mystery and frustration turns to adoration and obsession as Virgil falls blindly in love, forcing his world to spiral out of control.

The director of the film, Giuseppe Tornatore, in his typical style, doesn’t give the film a specific location, alluding to Italy but with an English speaking cast. This technique gives freedom to the plot and characters, and the wonderful design by Sabatini and Giovannetti, perfectly creates the high-rolling, lavish Italian lifestyle without the need to pin down an exact location.

The cinematography runs with Tornatore’s classic and old-fashioned style, contrasting the polished lifestyle of Virgil with the unkempt one of Sylvia and the crumbling villa, all the while enforcing the mystery of the plot and simple elegance and beauty of Italy.

Rush does an outstanding job of bringing to life an eccentric and at times despicable character that the audience still feels sympathy for, understanding his loneliness and aversion to women is due to his virginal nature and lack of experience. His fastidious habits and the need to wear gloves to protect himself from the outside world and others, as well as his secret room dedicated to a huge selection of gloves mirrors that of Claire. This similarity in shutting themselves in gives reason for the attraction between them, however, Claire’s character is faint, messy and feels very hackneyed. True, she has agoraphobia, but as a contributor to the outside world through her writing and high education it seems incongruent for her to not have more personality. Perhaps it is this missing element (and age difference) that sees the relationship between Virgil and Claire feel unauthentic, demystifying the plot. It’s also unrealistic that calculated, well-informed and constantly suspicious Virgil throws caution to the wind for love, especially given the circumstances of their introduction and unconventional relationship.

Unfortunately, Claire’s character is not the only one that wears thin and appears pigeonholed. Robert is the happy-go-lucky English geezer and engineer-mechanic that owns a repair shop, yet whose customers are solely women who pay only with a kiss. Billy has slightly more depth with undercurrents of menace, but his character sees less screen time and unfortunately, his lines are the some of the ones that give away the plot. Overall the dialogue feels muddled, presumably written originally in Italian and translated. The lines for the character Robert border on cringe-worthy as catch phrases are used as a crutch. 

Generally the plot unravelled half way through, as hints intended to create more mystery and suspense were dropped too early and made much too obvious, dispersing the tension and intrigue built in the first half. Unfortunately, the ending was predictable, the aftermath of the conclusion feeling quite long and generally finishing the film on a deflated note.

The Best Offer had commendable aspects, they just weren’t enough to carry the film and make up for the weaker features.


- Chelsea Denny