La migliore offerta (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2013)

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The best offer, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (La migliore offerta, 2013).

Score: Quite good.

Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a rich and prosper master auctioneer. He is mostly friendless, though. His only friend is Bill (Donald Sutherland), with whom he’s running a scam to keep the best pieces of the auction house to themselves. Everything changes when he is hired to catalogue and auction the antiques in a villa owned by a mysterious and troubled heiress (Sylvia Hoeks).

Geoffrey Rush does a great job as the finicky and awkward Virgil, later becoming more careless and passionate by the nature of his obsession. The rest of the actors do very well too, though none stands out. The script feels well-paced, with nice dialogue. The score is by Ennio Morricone; I especially like the moments when distorted electric guitars are used to give the feeling that something is not quite right.

You really don’t want this movie spoiled, so I’ll do some analysis after the spoiler tag. This movie is definitely going to give you a good time, go watch it.

***SPOILERS***

We can appreciate some symbolism in the movie than can help us better understand the characterisation. Virgil owns a room full of portaits of ladies, but he has never been with one. This reflects a half-hearted longing for feminine company: he can contemplate them, but he can’t actually have a relationship with them. They can’t talk back to him, they can’t argue, they will always be idealised images to him. For this reason he is so attracted to Claire: he can hear her but he can’t see her. Being an expert in art, sight is extremely important for him, and it is hard to understand for him why someone wouldn’t want to be seen. This inversion of his values makes Claire fascinating.

In the other hand, we have the symbol of the automaton. The automaton is built at the same time the relationship between Virgil and Claire is built. It has a human shape, so it can be viewed as a symbol for Virgil’s humanity. Robert builds it for Virgil, the same way he helps the old man build a relationship with a woman for the first time. In the end, the automaton not only is not human, simply an imitation of a human being, but also it is not a real antique, just a forgery built by Robert. Also we can establish a contrast between the classical, pictorial art which Virgil identifies with the true and beautiful, and the clockwork of the automaton and the tavern in Prague, which he relates with his betrayal and deceit.

The house and Claire’s secret room speak to us about vulnerability and personal space. Virgil thinks he’s slowly conquering Claire’s world, by entering the house, by spying on her when she thinks he’s not there, by finally having her be in the same room as him and starting a romance. But actually the opposite is happening: she is entering Virgil’s world and gaining his trust little by little. When Virgil can’t find Claire in the house, she hides in a deeper room of it to give him the false idea that their intimacy is growing. She’s luring him in, not him her out. This is obvious when the reveal happens and for some people even before, but nevertheless the house plays an important role in the process.

Finally, the final encounter with the true owner of the villa can be seen as ironic. It’s true she has an illness, but it’s not agoraphobia: she’s got dwarfism and what looks like some kind of autistic disorder. Claire is a distorted image of her, an image designed to make him vulnerable to the scam. Also, she had the key to the mystery the whole time, he just didn’tsee it.

Some people find the movie quite predictable. Maybe. There are some hints scattered around. What made me think something was dodgy was Robert’s girlfriend being jealous of Claire, but at first I thought Claire was cheating on Virgil with Robert for some reason. Then Billy’s speech about love being forged like art puts you on track if you weren’t on it already. I was kind of mislead because since Claire is rich it couldn’t be about money, so I thought it had to do with something else, but didn’t think of the paintings. Even if it’s predictable and you see it coming the development and characterisation are worth watching.

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