Geoffrey Rush is on superb form as the repressed protagonist of Deception (also known as The Best Offer), a teasing romantic mystery from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore.
His art auctioneer Virgil Oldman is a finicky, phobic man who prefers the company of paintings to people and keeps the world at arm’s length – until he is drawn into an intrigue involving an agoraphobic young heiress (Sylvia Hoek) whose decaying villa is stuffed temptingly full of antique treasures.
Virgil has no scruples about resorting to sharp practice when it comes to getting his hands on art – as we see from his dealings with wily auction-room sidekick Billy Whistler (a twinkling, whiskery Donald Sutherland) – but when the reclusive Claire Ibbetson invites him to appraise her family’s works of art he finds unfamiliar emotions beginning to disturb his usual self-possession.
Claire fails to turn up for their initial meetings at the villa, but his exasperation turns to fascination after the unseen young woman, concealing herself behind a magnificent trompe l’oeil wall, persuades him to continue with the project.
Becoming more and more enthralled by Claire, he turns to young mechanical whiz Robert (Jim Sturgess), seemingly his solitary friend, for advice on how to woo her. And Robert is also helping him fulfil a second passion, to reconstruct a priceless automaton whose disassembled parts he has uncovered in the villa. But what really is going on?
Tornatore keeps us off balance by not revealing where this intrigue is taking place – the film’s unnamed European setting is a composite of more than half a dozen different cities, including Trieste, Bolzano, Fidenza, Rome, Milan and Vienna.
He lays on the symbolism about the nature of fakes and forgeries in art and life a bit thickly, and the film’s mix of accents offers a distinct whiff of Europudding. You will probably even see some of the twists coming. Yet the film is still terrifically compelling. Rush keeps us swinging between repulsion and sympathy for his prickly character, and the production design – which includes stunning recreations of the old master paintings that Virgil hoards in a secret room – is a marvel.
Certificate 15. Runtime 125 mins. Director Giuseppe Tornatore.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital on Monday 21st July by Signature Entertainment.