Although it picked up significant honors at European film festivals, director Giuseppe Tornatore's 2013 indie drama/mystery "The Best Offer" only received limited release in art houses in North American and UK theaters and thus remains virtually unknown by most movie fans. It's a pity because Tornatore, the director of the much-revered "Cinema Paradiso", has fashioned a brilliant and mesmerizing film that achieves something rare in the modern movie industry: a highly original and offbeat concept. It's a movie packed with plots and subplots, eccentric characters and an increasingly fascinating mystery. In fact, the movie's many surprises also precludes me from providing all but bare bones details because to do otherwise would inevitably spoil some key plot points. Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a revered and highly celebrated figure in the upscale international art auction market. When Virgil presides over a sale of rare paintings, the art community pays special attention. His success has afforded him an opulent lifestyle. He lives in a plush apartment, dines at the best restaurants and seems to have a sizable bank account. However, Virgil is also a miserable, solitary figure who finds that his sense of narcissism has left him alienated and without any significant others in his life. He has only one person who can be regarded as somewhat of a friend: Billy Whistler, (Donald Sutherland), a failed artist but fellow lover of fine art, who conspires with Virgil in an audacious series of schemes. When obscure but potentially very valuable works come up in the auctions that Virgil orchestrates, he downplays their worth and has Billy act as a shill bidder. When the work is acquired for a relatively cheap price, Virgil takes possession and gives Billy a sizable fee for his part in the scheme. The only true joy Virgil derives from life takes place in an opulent hidden room in his spacious apartment (exactly where the film is set remains vague...at some points it appears to be London, at others times it might be Italy). Here, Virgil sits for hours sipping fine wine and silently admires the massive number of paintings he has acquired over the years. These inanimate objects act as his friends, family and lovers.
One day a seemingly routine phone call alters Virgil's in a dramatic way. A young woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoekes), calls him to say that she has recently inherited a house from her deceased parents and that it is filled with various works of art, some of which she suspects might be worth substantial sums. She asks if he will visit the house and evaluate them for potential auction pieces. When Virgil gets to the house, he finds it a shambles. Not only that, but the young woman isn't there to greet him. He recognizes some intriguing pieces among the rubbish but repeated attempts to meet with the woman fail, much to his frustration. The handyman employed at the house informs Virgil that he has worked there for years and has never seen her. She stays in touch with him by phone but eventually explains that he will never see her in the flesh because she suffers from a phobia that precludes her from leaving the solitude of her room if anyone else is in the house. Virgil becomes fascinated by the scenario and continues to make visits to the house, ostensibly to evaluate artwork but in reality, he is also accumulating pieces of a mysterious object that he hopes to have constructed in the expectation it might be quite valuable. He sneaks pieces out as he finds them and brings them to a young man, Robert (Jim Sturgess) who is undertaking the arduous task of trying to match up the odd pieces to make a coherent whole. Meanwhile, Virgil becomes increasingly obsessed by the elusive young woman who continues to avoid meeting with him even when they are both in the house at the same time. When they do ultimately meet, Virgil finds the obscure object of his desire is a beautiful young woman who is suffering from a severe form of agoraphobia. This is when the story kicks into high gear as Virgil becomes a combination father figure and would-be lover- all the while unable to control his obsession with her.
I will not reveal more about this strange, highly complex story line except to say that it consistently veers in directions you never expect, introducing plot elements that are thoroughly engrossing and which are matched only by the central characters, who are richly drawn by by director Tornatore, who also wrote the compelling screenplay. As the film progresses, it builds in suspense and will make you play a guessing game in your mind regarding what everyone's motives may be. The performances are uniformly superb with Geoffrey Rush nothing less than brilliant as the unlikable, yet somewhat sympathetic protagonist. Had the film received wider distribution, he undoubtedly would have received an Oscar nomination. Donald Sutherland in a key supporting role is also marvelous as is the cast of talented young actors. Kudos also to cinematographer Fabio Zamarion and production designer Maurizio Sabatini for their outstanding achievements on this production.
"The Best Offer" leads to a shattering conclusion that you may not see coming. It's a terrific movie and one of the best indie films I've seen in years. The DVD boasts a fine transfer but unfortunately is not a special edition. The only bonus feature is the trailer.