The Best Offer (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival in Toronto. For more information www.icff.ca/toronto and follow the ICFF Toronto on Twitter at @.
“This is one of those evenings when one feels like this contraption here,” begins the aloof auctioneer played by Geoffrey Rush in The Best Offer, “…incomplete”. It’s not only for the fact that he speaks of a reassembled mechanical man that he might just as easily have said “automated”: this new movie from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore is as perfunctory in its dealings with human emotions as is the cold cynic at its centre. But where this perpetually-begloved protagonist realises that one has to dirty one’s hands to appreciate life, Tornatore’s remain resolutely sheathed, broaching contact with this material only through the fabric of flimsy conceit.
…his new movie from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore is as perfunctory in its dealings with human emotions as is the cold cynic at its centre.
There’s little quite so conceited as the construction of these characters, each of whom feels more page and ink than flesh and blood. Archetypes are essential, of course—especially to a story so concerned with antiquity—but bare as they are here they’re less interacting humans than they are pawns in a plot. It shouldn’t take an appreciation of A Touch of Cloth to titter at the fact that Rush’s character is called Oldman; it’s amusing evidence of the minimal effort Tornatore’s expended in making these characters anything more than conduits to his cloistered consideration of authenticity and forgery in art and in life. Look no further than Donald Sutherland, who wanders in seemingly off the set of The Hunger Games—costume and all—to fill in some back story whenever it’s needed.
His scenes with Rush, expository in their establishment of an eventually integral subplot, take the cake where the movie’s poor dialogue is concerned, an achievement that oughtn’t to be understated. This is Tornatore’s first foray into English-language scripting, and it shows, whether in the stilted speech of these encounters or the maudlin melodrama of Oldman’s interactions with the mysterious client whose estate’s valuation is the engine that drives the plot. Theirs is a back-and-forth dynamic of aggravating immobility, irritating less by intention than by the manner in which it extends their scenes together ad infinitum. Here again is where conceit keeps things inhuman: an agoraphobe, she speaks from a secluded chamber; it isn’t just for the dialogue’s directionlessness that poor Geoffrey looks to be talking to the wall.
Like that automaton its protagonist professes himself akin to, The Best Offer is a work whose various dusty old pieces can’t seem to come together to make something that works.
And yet, as uninteresting as Tornatore’s tale may be by virtue of its ill-defined participants, there’s skill in the telling; a voyeuristic shot about halfway into the film earns its echoes of Vertigo, utterly eerie in an uneasily involving way. Misguided as it may be, the filmmaker’s focus on his ideas first and foremost reaps appreciable reward here, invoking ideas of the artistic and individual gaze that’s fascinating for its interrogation of how we look and why. But even then, it’s only in service of complicating the central character, whose scripting has already left Rush scrambling for something to cling to. It’s a case of much too little, much too late, with much less discipline than necessary.
Like that automaton its protagonist professes himself akin to, The Best Offer is a work whose various dusty old pieces can’t seem to come together to make something that works. In the background of one scene a character can be heard saying “the length of a point, the direction of a circle”, Ennio Morricone’s score shrieking alongside her as though atmosphere were that easy to establish. Employing musical motifs that signal spectral strangeness, crafting a central dynamic that gestures toward rote romance, leaning on a leading performance that strives for something more sinister, this is a movie that’s victim to the utmost undisciplined sprawl, never sure where it wants to go or how it might go about getting there.
The Best Offer is a movie that’s victim to the utmost undisciplined sprawl, never sure where it wants to go or how it might go about getting there.