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‘The Best Offer’: Geoffrey Rush in a gallery of curious ideas

Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) treasures his inner sanctum lined with paintings women “The Best Offer.”  |  IFC FILMS

Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) treasures his inner sanctum lined with paintings of women in “The Best Offer.” | IFC FILMS

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Virgil Oldman Geoffrey Rush

Claire Sylvia Hoeks

Robert Jim Sturgess

Billy Donald Sutherland

IFC Films presents a film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. Running time: 131 minutes. Rated R (for some sexuality and graphic nudity). Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Updated: February 18, 2014 6:06AM

In “The Best Offer,” Geoffrey Rush (“The Book Thief,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Shine”) plays Virgil Oldman, an aging art auctioneer with an unusual regard of women. Despite his unsubtle surname, this character is complex — imperious, melancholy and given to wearing exquisite gray gloves. His discriminating eye, however, fails to detect an emotional fraud at the end of his illustrious career.

Originally titled “La migliore offerta,” the film is set in an unnamed Old World city where everyone speaks English with various accents. Shooting in Rome, Milan, Trieste, Vienna and Prague, Italian writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore (“The Legend of 1900,” “Cinema Paradiso”) designs beautiful sets around Virgil, who holds the screen in nearly every shot. Foremost is his highly secured inner sanctum. From floor to ceiling, there are about 150 paintings of women. “I’ve loved them all,” he rhapsodizes. “They’ve loved me back.”

Virgil receives a call from an agoraphobe living in shabby villa packed with art and furniture. Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) wants him to auction her inheritance. Virgil, a 63-year-old virgin, falls in love with this elusive 27-year-old who claims to publish novels under various pseudonyms. But, as his dubious colleague Billy (Donald Sutherland) cautions: “Emotions are like works of art. They can be forged.”

As Virgil discovers gears of a centuries-old automaton scattered around Claire’s villa, a scheme is underway to divest him of his precious companions on canvas. The mechanics of this plot, unfortunately, are a letdown. The rebuilt android is far better crafted, with its wax cylinder recording of Virgil’s credo: “There is always something authentic concealed in every forgery.” Tornatore’s ideas about art, trust and intimacy are curious, even if they do not quite click.

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