Film Review: The Best Offer, an obsession with love and art
The Best Offer
Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
In cinemas from September 19
The Lord Byron Hotel in Rome close to the Villa Borghese features an unusual vast collection of portraits of women amassed by the owner Amedeo Ottaviani. Some of the works are hundreds of years old while others are very recent.
He could be the model for Geoffrey Rush’s obessional Virgil Oldman in his latest film, “The Best Offer”.
Oldman is the owner of a major auction house in Rome where he is an auctioneer, valuer and collector. His home has a secret gallery for his personal collection of paintings of women which includes paintings by Raphael and Ingres.
While he seems to be the epitome of the honest dealer he is in fact a conniving collector, putting up major works for auction as lesser works and having an accomplice, Billy (Donald Sutherland) buy them for him so he can add to his collection.
Oldman is a slightly foppish dandy with impeccable tastes but not great interpersonal skills, doesn’t like to be touched, wears gloves all the time and rarely displays emotions, apart from his love of artworks. His only friend apart from Billy is Robert, a young man he consults professionally who knows how things work, including the human heart.
Oldman, against his better judgment and his rules of life, falls in love with Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) a mysterious agoraphobic young heiress who lives alone in a rambling villa filled with treasures which she wants sold.
As well as preparing the contents of the house for sale he also embarks on the task of rehabilitating Claire into the world outside and his interest in the task turns to obsession and then love.
He has to communicate through phone messages as well as shouting through the wall of her inner sanctuary because she will not let him see her. When he does eventually spy on her it is like a version of Susannah and the Elders with Oldman voyeuristically observing her nakedness. The film is peppered with references to classical subjects and paintings.
The story ambles along in a reasonably conventional way with sudden shifts and interludes until near the end when a whole lot of strange and inexplicable events occur. The audience and Rush have to question everything that has happened. It makes for a slightly unsatisfying conclusion with some magic realism tinkering which director Guiseppe Tornatore doesn’t handle all that well.
Despite that it is a film with many pleasures; the various sub plots, the inner workings of the art world , the drama of the fine art auction, the lavish sets and the heightened acting which makes the film intriguing and captivating.
The three main characters; Oldman, Claire and Robert are all obsessional, a feature which is highlighted by the minor character, another Claire, an autistic dwarf. She is like an Oracle who provides another way of looking at the world, describing what she sees as a collection of numbers and lists.
Oldman and Claire are defined by their collections, Claire initially wanting to be rid of hers while Oldman wants to expand his own. There is also a clever little metaphor which involves all three with Oldman discovering parts of an old automaton in Claire’s villa which Robert ingeniously puts together just as Oldman puts together his collection and also pieces together Claire’s life and psyche.