July 10, 2013

Film Review. An analysis of the cinematography of La Migliore Offerta by Giuseppe Tornatore

La Migliore Offerta (The best Offer) by acclaimed Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Baaria, Malena, Cinema Paradiso) was one of the three Italian movies whose screening I was waiting for since they have been released in Italy earlier this year.

The plot. Geoffrey Rush is an eccentric art auctioneer who rejects every kind of relationship with people, especially with women. But he starts to be obsessed with an heiress who wants to sell her family's works of art and whose agoraphobia makes her even more eccentric than he is. 

Cinematography: Fabio Zamarion
Camera: Arri Alexa Studio
Lenses: Zeiss Master Prime
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: Arriraw
Film Stock: -

G. Tornatore doesn't have a trusted cinematographer he usually works with; he changes quite a lot. He already worked with Fabio Zamarion in The Unknown woman and the documentary L'ultimo Gattopardo but he didn't call him for the magnificent Baaria, his last movie before La Migliore Offerta. Zamarion is known for Respiro by E. Crialese and Evilenko but his filmography is best known for his work as a camera: Goya en Burdeos and Tango by Saura, Little Buddha and The Last Emperor by Bertolucci among others. So he had one of the best teacher possible: Vittorio Storaro. Unfortunately, in La Migliore Offerta, very little of the master's legacy can be seen

I don`t mean at all that Zamarion badly lit the film, but its cinematography is impersonal and undefined. This way of lighting was probably chosen to make the audience pay attention to the plot but a cinematographer's job is not only to illuminate a scene with sufficient light to record it on a sensor or a film. Placing a light on the right has a meaning, placing it on the left or above has another one: that is what I missed in Zamarion's cinematography. 

Light is always soft and diffused, even outdoor, as well as natural, so, when windows are not used as light sources (very balanced contrast, by the way, when they are in shot, with details both in highlights and shadows) light comes from above.  Side lighting set-up is preferred thou, which is a very good election for the story: throughout the film the audience doubt about the real intentions of the characters who have a lot to hide so, leaving them half in shadow and half in light enhances this concept (the same Storaro taught that light is the conscious and shadow the unconscious). But contrast is never strong and shadows are soft as there were an intention of showing everything in the scene; to remain with Storaro's teching, by this way only the conscious is visually represented, not the unconscious.

However, Zamarion's choice of lighting works well in the scenes held in Oldman`s house: it emphasizes the eccentric art auctioneer's pulchritude and clinical order (even his wardrobe and collections of gloves and ties are held and placed as they were pieces of art in a museum); moreover the camera follows him in a slight low angle giving the character  the importance and the authority he really possesses in his life, but, the camera maintains the low angle even at the end, where the character is lost and defeated, which is contradictory.

The Zeiss Master Prime lenses' hardness is softened with a diffusion filter, probably a Pro-Mist, and the camera is sometimes placed in interesting angles; but when we see Claire's house for the first time, in a wide shot, the barrel distortion is not corrected, resulting in converging lines that make the image not quite pleasant.

Zamarion's cinematography of La Migliore Offerta is quite fair then, even though we can enjoy some beautifully composed and lit images that are spread all over a film that, in my opinion, deserved more from a visually point of view. La Migliore Offerta, anyway, is well directed but its script is predictable and sometimes improbable; I understand Tornatore's need and desire to film stories different and far from the ones told in his Sicily but, being such a great director as he is, I expect him to deliver us a work whose quality is at the same level his previous works are: La Migliore offerta failed to satisfy this expectation of mine.

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