It’s a strange alternative universe of wealth, classical elegance, and ubiquitous art that Tornatore and his collaborators build as the setting for this modern noir thriller. Another of 2014’s great acousmetres lies at the heart of the film’s mystery, and unlike the other two (Her, The Lunchbox), the unveiling of the source of the voice of Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) is critical to the story. From a voice on the phone, to one on the other side of a door, to a visual presence whose lips finally speak, few character introductions were as carefully attenuated in recent film as this one.
Many relate how moved they were by Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. (A film I saw for the first time within a week of seeing this one.) For me this tale of a proud man’s humbling was far more moving. Largely this comes down to the role as written and the work of Geoffrey Rush, but the performance has sway in part because of the strength of the audio-visual work around it. A brief example. There’s a scene early on where Virgil (Geoffrey Rush) luxuriates in a hidden vault with his life’s work – portraits of women by many artists, in many styles, gathered illegitimately by virtue of his position as a valuer. As Tornatore’s camera takes in the wall of beauties, Ennio Morricone’s score offers us not so much a piece of music as a space where female soli of different styles float through, carrying parts of a long line melody. Virgil’s blindspot in relation to women, and his need for genuine contact in this regard, have been unmistakeably communicated by the scene’s end, without a word uttered. (The subsequent cut to the many young men who staff his office serves to underline the point.)