Monday, 28 April 2014

The Best Offer (La migliore offerta) (2013)

Artsy art porn take on classic tale of conman getting beaten at his own game
Conceited and arrogant art auctioner and collector Virgil Oldman runs a long con game where fakes are sold (sometimes as historical forgeries, sometimes as the genuine piece) together with the artworks and antiques at his auction house, so that he can get old pal Whistler (Donald Sutherland), the talented artist behind some of the forgeries, to buy for himself the real, rare masterpieces that he passes off as fakes. The revenge con plot is established in an early blink-and-miss-it sequence where the supercilious auctioner foolishly describes Whistler as a forger with not much talent in him to do real art and Whistler giving a defense of forgery as an art in itself...

What follows is strictly genre, and fairly predictable genre at that: our crooked art auctioner is introduced to a mystery involving a fabulously wealthy, young (and allegedly beautiful), naive recluse living in a magnificent ruin of a mansion who may be siting on the next big discovery of the art world. Here you have the mark, the bait, and appeals to vanity, pride, and greed all rolled into one. There's not much mystery involved, not even the how and when of the eventual comeuppance.

Yet knowing that there's a con going on and what its major plays are is a different kettle of fish from appreciating the precise timing, technical production, and aesthetics of a con game—as well as the amount of meticulous preparation that is involved. You may never fall for it but Giuseppe Tornatore makes sure you know why a Virgil Oldman would fall for all that hook, line, and sinker.

It would be interesting to watch this con game flick as a non-genre savvy audience. It's not impossible, though you'd have to ignore Tornatore's highly deliberate, highly technical filmmaking where every piece of the con is called to your attention, thereby heightening the artificiality of the situation.

What Tornatore sacrifices in believability (and it is a big deal especially to audiences who expect to be conned by a movie they watch), he compensates by making this film an allegory for the artifice and the art of filmmaking. While never quite convincing us that the central con is good cinema in itself, Tornatore makes a case that from set design, lighting, mise en scene, soundtrack, to casting and costumes, filmmaking as an enterprise is one big con game—and that from the mark, the bait, the prestige, and the hooks, the con game is filmmaking writ small.

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