The world of art collections and a top class auction house might sound like a pretty dull theme for a film, but when you add an eccentric lead, forgery, a love story, agoraphobia, an automaton and a character-rich ensemble into the mix, you're in for a treat. It's a film set in Italy (where everyone seems to speak such perfect English, I thought it must be London at first) but without subtitles.
Virgil Oldman is the ageing art genius and head of the auction house, played sublimely by Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Quills, Pirates of the Caribbean) throughout. He does this well. The eccentric well-to-do bloke with a haughty downwards view on everyone around him. Big fish in a little pond, monied, with those around him fawning at every turn. He lives a solitary existence, behaviours seeped in tradition, routine and an irritated tolerance of those around him.
He's pretty cute though, and it soon becomes apparent that he's on the make and in cahoots with a buddy, Billy Whistler, played with equal command and expertise by Donald Sutherland (JFK, The Eagle has Landed, Kelly's Heroes, M.A.S.H., The Dirty Dozen). They're working an auction house scam, pushing prices up and using misvaluation on the naive.
Enter Claire Ibbetson, played by the beautiful Dutch model Sylvia Hoeks (The Lake, Overspel, De Storm) who presents as a property owner who's house is full of expensive belongings and in need of a valuation with a view to a sale by auction. She demonstrates an agoraphobic condition which means that for a large part of the proceedings they have to communicate through a partition wall.
To round things off, there's young Robert, played by Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Stoneheart Asylum, 21) with girlfriend in tow and a caretaker for the large house in question, Fred, played by Philip Jackson (Little Voice, Brassed Off). Robert works in a wonderful Aladdin's Cave of a shop where he mends, creates and fixes all sorts of mechanical and electrical gadgets and gizmos. As Virgil uncovers pieces of an automaton (apparently created in a different age, but destroyed) around the house, Robert assists him by trying to put it back together.
Virgil eventually gains the trust of Claire, he helps her overcome her fears, one thing leads to another and eventually they fall in love. Oh, and there's also a cafe across the road, full of interesting and quirky characters. As the story develops, their influence on proceedings unfolds. The cafe, style and characters could be straight out of the set of Amelie! (https://goo.gl/XkROxC)
From there, the story develops and has the feel more of a fable than a thriller or love story. It has many assets and attributes. It has the classic feel and ambience of the European cinema it is, with nods to all sorts of other works of media and art. It reminded me very much of the film Hugo (https://goo.gl/6eBFm8) and not just because of the automaton, but rather the style, themes and setting.
The beautiful score is composed by Ennio Morricone (six decades of relentless work with everything from Spaghetti Westerns to Tarantino films), wonderful direction and writing by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malena, The Unknown Woman) and amazingly fitting cinematography from Fabio Zamarion (The Unknown Woman, Respiro) all adding so much more to the production.
I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but I'll do it again... How did this slip under my radar for so long! Do seek it out, it's really worth the effort and may surprise you with quality filmmaking and storyline. Enjoy.
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