THE closing credits for Guiseppe Tornatore’s elegant, beautiful, compelling and engrossing film display the names of the real artworks that play a vital part, too fast to count or remember their titles.
They adorn the walls of the secret basement gallery where celebrity art auctioneer Virgil (Geoffrey Rush) sips his wine and immerses himself in his good fortune to be their legal owner. Virgil’s a difficult fellow, something of a curmudgeon, secretive, without friends.
In a decaying mansion lives 26-year-old Claire whose deceased parents left instructions to engage Virgil to dispose of their stunning collection of art and craft. But Claire suffers from agoraphobia, the irrational fear of public or open spaces. To take instructions and prepare the sale catalogue, Virgil must shout through the door behind which Claire lives a hermit-like existence. We hear but don’t see her until well into the film, a useful device for developing an air of mystery.
Rush gives an impeccable performance. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks is delicate and nervous as Claire. The film has four dramatic threads – rescuing Claire from her fear, development of May-September love and a scam using Billy (Donald Sutherland) to raise bidding.
And a device last seen in Martin Scorsese’s delightful “Hugo”, a mechanical automaton which, if Virgil can locate all its parts, would be worth untold zillions.
It’s a great film and we can excuse Tornatore’s occasional awkward brushes with the English language in a screenplay that presses a fine collection of correct buttons in delivering a story which for dramatic merit need defer to nobody.
At Capitol 6, Palace Electric and Dendy