Critics wrote a lot about this film, unanimously noting the brilliant performance of D. Rush and the magnificent visuals, but on all other points, opinions were contradictory. Some considered “The Best Offer” a thriller in the tradition of Hitchcock, although the thriller here is only a premonition of a catastrophe, and then only partially realized: the main character does not die. The Best Offer (Italian: La migliore offerta – entitled Deception in the UK)
Others saw Tornatore’s film as a reflection on the role of art in human life. There are grounds for such an approach, and yet Best Offer is not a film about painting. Its main theme is genuine values that give meaning to our being, and the originality of the plot is closely connected with the unusual personality of the protagonist – a very middle-aged, very wealthy and very lonely auctioneer Virgil Oldman.
Man in a case
It is no coincidence that Chekhov’s hero, who was terrified of life, comes to mind at the sight of Oldman. Of course, the outwardly poor Chekhov provincial is far from a polished European gentleman, but they have the same essence. Both hiding like a snail in their house are asexuals, and it is no coincidence that the name of the hero Virgil is consonant with Virgin – a virgin. Oldman fences himself off from the world in every possible way: he not only does not invite anyone to his luxurious home, but he never takes off his gloves, creating a barrier between himself and the world, even at a tactile level. There are only two places where he feels completely comfortable and in his element: his auction and his home gallery.
Oldman’s gallery is as weird as he is. Firstly, it is hidden in the bowels of his apartment, and no one ever visits it except the owner. Instead of delighting people, beautiful paintings languish locked up. Secondly, the collection of paintings is distinguished by a certain one-sidedness: it contains exclusively portraits of young and beautiful women, however, belonging to the best artists of all eras.
The selection of paintings explains a lot in the personality of the collector. In this case, the viewer understands that Virgil does not collect paintings for the love of art: this gallery is his personal life, and the beauties in the portraits replace real women of flesh and blood. As Oldman admits in a conversation with Robert, reverence for women coexisted in him with a fear of them and an inability to unravel them. In other words, the representatives of the opposite sex are obscure creatures for him, and he either idealizes them, dreaming of beautiful ladies in portraits, or does not see women in them at all – until Claire Ibbetson appears in his life.
What’s the point of Claire’s behavior?
The mysterious stranger bursts into the well-established and protected life of the auctioneer, first as a crying voice on a telephone receiver, then as an invisible mistress of a villa, and her behavior confuses not only Oldman, but also the viewer.
At first glance, Claire is acting illogically: for example, she makes Virgil, who came to the villa for the first time, stand in the rain in front of a locked gate. But in fact, Miss Ibbetson’s behavior is not just deliberate, but is a reference illustration of the manipulative technique “emotional swing.”
The essence of this technique lies in the fact that the object of manipulation is either caressed and brought closer, then insulted and repulsed, and its main goal is a banal “divorce for emotions”. Claire needs to get Virgil out of his case, to deprive him of psychological balance, and therefore she flattering (“Father said that Virgil Oldman is the best”), then encloses with a locked gate; he says that they have a lot in common, then suddenly insults him because of dyed hair; he hands over the keys to the villa, then he changes the locks.
When Virgil for the first time in his life comes to her birthday with a bouquet of flowers, Claire, instead of gratitude, shouts and accuses of deception, etc. Plus a little game of hide and seek and “pity whipping” – and Oldman ceases to control the situation: unbeknownst to himself, he was completely involved in someone else’s scenario.
Why is the main character so reckless?
Some viewers ask a logical question: why didn’t such an experienced person in business hire a detective to figure out what the mysterious Miss Ibbetson is? Indeed, in business, Virgil, unlike his personal life, is by no means a neophyte.
The fact is that, oddly enough, the gray-haired auctioneer is somewhat of a teenager. He does not know any real love or the psychology of women, yearns with desire, spies, consults with friends, dreams of painted beauties.
On the other hand, a teenager is still half a child who believes in fairy tales. Claire invites Virgil, who has fallen in love, to play the role of a fairy-tale prince who removes the evil spell from an enchanted princess who does not dare to go out into the street. This role is very much to the liking of the auctioneer: it greatly ennobles the unappetizing situation in which the old man got involved with the young girl. And there is no place for detectives in a fairy tale. What detectives: a simple thought that feelings can be fake, and that comes to oldman in love with great difficulty.
It is not surprising that when Oldman not only discovers that his entire collection has disappeared, but also realizes that he was robbed by his “beloved woman” and “friend”, he almost dies in the literal sense of the word.
What is the meaning of Robert’s image?
While the film does not provide a precise answer to the question of who came up with the cunning plan to deprive Virgil of his treasures, there is no doubt that Robert, a young mechanic whom the auctioneer considered to be his friend, had a hand in him. Robert is the living opposite of Oldman, and not only in terms of age. Oldman runs away from the world, Robert is inextricably linked with him. Oldman does not know women, they like Robert and easily strikes up a relationship.
And, most importantly, if for Oldman real life is replaced by art, then for Robert life and art are inseparable: he successfully makes an adventure novel out of his biography. Robert is the embodiment of a pragmatic, realistic and creative approach to life, but his talents are too versatile.
What is the meaning of android?
During her first visit to the villa, Claire Virgil finds a strange detail that turns out to be an element of an android – an old automaton that imitates a person. Since almost the entire film Virgil brings Robert parts of this machine, and then the auctioneer finds the finished android in an empty gallery, it is obvious that this plot line deserves a separate consideration.
First of all, the android is part of Claire and Robert’s game with the auctioneer, a kind of puzzle, the meaning of which will become clear only when all the elements fall into place. At the same time, since Virgil constantly brings new details to Robert, this helps the latter to control the victim: the android is also a way of maintaining regular contacts.
And finally, it is a subtle mockery of Oldman, who believed that there was some authenticity in every forgery. He is shown a mechanical stuffed animal, making it clear that this forgery is as little like a living person as he is.
By the way, the return of the portrait of a woman who looks like Claire is also a mockery. Oldman is being told: return to your world of illusions and live with a picture, you are not worthy of a real woman.
Why didn’t Oldman report to the police?
The answer to this question is simple: because he loved. Claire is Oldman’s first, last, and only love. Thanks to her, the main character – albeit with a monstrous delay – finally realized what is the most important and most valuable in life.
What’s the point of the final scene?
In the finale, we see the hero waiting for Claire at a table in the Prague restaurant, which she once told him about. A huge number of hours in the interior is a symbol of the time that is gone and wasted by the protagonist. All the time that we live without love, hiding in the shell of selfishness, we live in vain. But Virgil, having fallen in love, became a different person, and his life took on meaning.
What is the meaning of the name?
In the title of the film, one of the auction terms is played up, and twice: first, Virgil’s assistant, in response to his question what it is like to live in a marriage, replies that it is like participating in an auction and never knowing if your offer is the best. Later, Robert ironically remarks that if love were art, then it could be put up for auction and relive the greatest love story by making the best offer. But life is not an auction, and love is even more so. Thus, the title is ironic.
What is the main idea of the film?
Of course, one of the main ideas of the film is that only love and other feelings give our being completeness and meaningfulness, but there is also another semantic layer.
As D. Bykov says in his poem “Life is higher than literature”: “Art is a kind of dried fruit, a shrunken weight and volume, required only by those who have not seen the fruit alive.” Without a doubt, if the creator of the “Best Offer” had known these lines, he would have agreed with them. Art is beautiful, but it never compares to real life. And therefore suffering for Virgil is better than vegetation in a case: he has finally begun to live.