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The Best Offer: A Mise-en-Scene Analysis

Introduction

The analysis of any film may contain a variety of aspects, but the one that is most likely to offer an insight into the creative work’s main ideas, both apparent and concealed ones, is the mise-en-scene. The careful exploration of a movie’s compositional elements allows the viewer to see more than there is on the surface and to understand the more profound ideas and components of the piece.

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In the beginning, The Best Offer (2013), directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, grasps the audience’s attention by an exciting secret. Soon, however, the secret turns into a sinister mystery, which can be disclosed only by the shrewdest viewers. The main goal of the compositional elements’ arrangement in The Best Offer is to create an atmosphere of mystery and seduction. With the careful selection of audio and visual elements, including music, placement of characters, costumes, and secretive details, the director has managed to fulfill this aim.

The Role of Audio Elements in The Best Offer

The Analysis of Music in the Film

While in everyday life, people do not need musical accompaniment to tell a story to someone and be understood, the situation is quite different in a movie. Very often, music is necessary for films to make the audience resonate with them.1 It is believed that music functions as an “independent voice” and, hence, makes it possible to pass more thorough information to the viewers.2 Sometimes, with the help of music, one can get a deeper understanding of what is going on than by means of a visual image and narration.

In The Best Offer, the music undoubtedly is that additional effect, without which the impression of the film would not be as immense as it is. The initial theme is light and cheerful, creating a positive atmosphere, and not predicting anything sinister to happen yet. However, when Virgil approaches Claire’s house for the first time, the music changes to more dramatic, somber, melancholic, and serious. Further, this melody can be heard more and more often, especially when the characters are in Claire’s mansion. The main theme is also played when Virgil is in his secret room, where he keeps an immense number of females’ portraits of different ages and in various genres.

There is something mysterious about the music, which is intensified by females’ voices intertwining with the orchestra. These voices resemble mythical sirens: it seems that the main character is lured into something that is bound to corrupt and destroy him. However, as well as in myths, the hero neglects reasonable and rational thinking and throws himself into the misery that has been carefully crafted especially for him.

Characters’ Manner of Speaking and Communicating

A rather interesting aspect of the movies’ mise-en-scene is represented by the characters’ voices and their communication styles. The most vivid effect of the environment on a character can be traced to the manner of communication demonstrated by Virgil. In his office, as well as in the places he visits with professional purposes, the man is authoritative, calm, and always controlling his emotions. Virgil does not raise his voice even when he is frustrated (like in the first phone conversations with Claire).

However, when the main character becomes more and more interested in the mysterious young woman, his manner of speaking changes. When talking to Claire, Virgil is meeker than usual and more willing to listen than speak by himself. When she disappears, and Virgil starts looking for her frantically, his voice becomes broken and miserable, and the man starts losing his breath and becomes impatient. It is obvious that changes in the settled course of events make the characters alter their communication habits, which is an indicator for the audience about a crucial twist in the scenario.

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Other characters’ manner of speaking and body language are also peculiar and say much about them. Claire is always very discreet and cautious, her gestures and voice signifying secrecy and, as it later becomes apparent, conspiracy. Robert seems happy-go-lucky and easy-going; he is never upset or frustrated and pretends to be genuinely interested in Virgil’s affairs. Robert’s communication style shows what a good actor the young man is since, as it appears in the end, he has been pretending all of the time, and he has never given away his true thoughts or emotions. Finally, another significant figure in this part of the analysis is Billy.

Virgil’s friend, who turns out to be a betrayer in the end, never conceals his true feelings. Billy is evidently disappointed to hear that Virgil does not value his artistic works, and he is sincerely satisfied with earning money for fraudulent affairs. Hence, when Virgil realizes that everything was set up, he is probably the least surprised by Billy’s participation in the conspiracy. Overall, the way each character communicates, both verbally and non-verbally, plays a certain role in the viewers’ perception of the film.

The Setting

The setting plays a rather significant role in movies since it is capable of creating the atmosphere even before presenting the characters. It is quite typical for dramas to be shot in drab pallets, with gray, black, and brown colors prevailing.3 These colors are dominant in each of the major settings of The Best Offer. Be it Virgil’s office, Claire’s mansion, Robert’s workshop, the streets, or even the mental asylum – by and large, each of these places looks somehow sad despite being posh and elegant.

Virgil’s Office

The office of the main character personifies his professional habits and his attitude to work. Virgil’s cabinet is filled with expensive and elegant furniture and adorned with paintings and sculptures. The predominant colors are black, brown, and gray, although some white can be seen in the windows and some of the sculptures. However, this seems to serve not so much to brighten the mood as to set an even more striking contrast to the dark elements. The office reflects Mr. Oldman’s personality quite well: there are no unnecessary things, everything is in its place, and the secretary keeps track of his chief’s events and phone calls. Virgil’s home is kept almost in the same style as his office. However, since his profession plays a critical role in his meeting with Claire, it seems more relevant to pay more attention to the work atmosphere.

Claire’s Mansion

The next important element of the setting is the mansion in which Claire is secluded. The building is old and shabby and seems not to be inhabited when Virgil first comes to visit the woman. However, there is something so mysterious about it that makes it is impossible to resist the temptation of meeting its owner. The mansion is dark and sometimes even looks dangerous (the stairs and cellars look rather dilapidated). The overall impression of the building is sinister and gloomy. The very entrance – a high black gate, which makes a creepy noise when opened – as if it symbolizes the unfriendliness of those living inside.

A special prominence in this setting should be given to the pert of the house where Claire lives in seclusion. The viewer can perceive an allusion between Claire’s living conditions and good old fairytales, such as the one about Rapunzel. While Virgil is a little frustrated by the fact that the anonymous lady distracts him from the office work and postpones the meeting several times, the concealed impulse to save the princess is guiding his actions. Still, despite these inner thoughts, the outer representation of the young woman’s place is rather forlorn and dark, which corresponds to the common color choices in drama.

Robert’s Workshop

The significance of this setting is understood only by the end of the film. During the whole story, Robert seems like a nice young man, ready to help out and able to make anything out of nothing. He looks entirely fit for his workshop, and his placement there is absolutely harmonious. Again, the colors are predominantly dark: brown, gray, and black. Naturally, these are the usual colors for a place where everything is old and requires repair.

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However, in this movie, the workshop represents more than merely a place of Robert’s work. In fact, this workshop is probably even more of a masterpiece than the mansion “owned” by Claire. For when the dark deed has been performed, and all the villains disappeared, the workshop has been erased from the place where it used to be. If Claire’s house could at least be visualized from the outside, there was not even a signboard signifying that any workshop used to be situated in that place ever before.

Characters’ Placement and Costumes

Characters’ placement and the way they dress also play a crucial role in the formation of an impression with a drama film. The places in which the director puts the main heroes and the clothes that they are wearing are some of the core issues helping to understand their position in society. Or, at least, the position with which they would like to be associated.

Virgil’s Habit of Dressing and Behaving in Public

The main character is a man with impeccable taste and manners. He is dressed in perfectly crafted suits, his appearance is always neat, and he is never impolite. Whatever place he attends, Virgil looks splendidly and attracts people’s attention with his aristocratic behavior, which is perhaps a little too much for modern society. Virgil’s treatment of people corresponds to his outlook: he is equally nice to his secretary, restaurant waiters, and wealthy clients or auction participants. Everything about Virgil says that he is a decent man, which makes it easy to guess why he has allowed himself to be so utterly deceived by his closest people. The man is too honorable and prudent to suspect that anyone could treat him with such unfairness, let alone those whom he has always trusted.

One thing about Virgil’s dressing habits is peculiar, if not to say queer. He is always wearing gloves: even when eating, even when eating in his own house. He seems to be disgusted with the rest of the world, so he does not want to touch the things other people touched. This feature characterizes Virgil as a trifle over-cautious, which contradicts the situation in which he let himself be involved. It seems that the choice of Virgil’s clothes and manners was made in order to distract the viewers’ attention and make it easier to impress them when it appears that Virgil has become a victim of the most colossal fraud in his history.

Claire’s Seclusion as a Symbol of Secrecy

Meanwhile, Claire is depicted as an elegant lady, but the one not too much overwhelmed with her appearance. The girl pretends not to remember how to make up, and her clothes are rather humble and modest. Her isolation from the outer world symbolizes a huge secret, which, as it turns out, was impossible to be guessed even by the wise and shrewd art connoisseur. Hiding behind an artificial wall in her house, the girl seems so innocent and pure that Virgil becomes seduced and eager to make her go out into the world. Claire’s voice plays a crucial role in the formation of her image, as well. The young woman sounds scared and hysterical, and she does not seem to know how to cope with her agoraphobia, so all of her ill-mannered decisions and actions are justified by the disease.

The Substantial Role of Small Details

The Best Offer is a film in which grandeur and splendor prevail over simplicity and modesty. Still, despite the abundance of exquisite details, there are also many minute elements, pay close attention to which makes it easier for an astute viewer to suspect something sooner than Virgil does. Present-day cinema aims at putting the focus on real things “as they are” rather than making the audience analyze metaphorical situations.4 Hence, it is relevant to note some of the less evident but rather significant details that give insight into the development of the plot.

The disappointment in Billy’s look is one of the first meaningful issues depicted in the movie. When Virgil praises his friend’s skill to perform fraudulent deals but mentions that he has no talent at all, it is obvious that Billy is deeply offended. Whereas Virgil turns his eyes away and does not see that expression, a keen viewer might feel that Billy can be planning some bitter revenge for his hurt feelings.

Roger and Claire both indicate sinister signs from time to time. As for Roger, he never asks any questions and seems to be okay with all the requests Virgil has. Such behavior is suspicious in the least, for it is clear that he should be interested, and if he does not make any inquiries, it seems that he knows the answers by himself. As for Claire, she sometimes gives herself away by overreacting and by starting to do things, which she claims not to have been doing for many years, too easily. Paying close attention to minute details, such as intonation, head tilting, voice changing, and others allows discerning the dreadful secret behind a beautiful story.

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Conclusion

The analysis of mise-en-scene in The Best Offer makes it possible to conclude that the meticulous choice of visual and audio elements made it possible for the director to create an atmosphere of subtlety. The exquisitely selected music themes helped to gain the effect of suspension. The ways characters dressed, spoke, communicated, and behaved gave much additional information to the narration. The settings were most suitable for each character and scene, which established a sense of completeness and a unique combination of simplicity and brilliance. The movie is rich in evident and concealed details, each of them separately and all of them together helping to solve the great mystery in which the main character finds himself.

References

Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2019.

Xu, Rui. “Analysis of the Role of Music in Film Narrative.” Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, no. 368 (2019): 55-57.

Zavattini, Cesare. “Some Ideas on The Cinema.” In Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology, edited by Scott MacKenzie, 50-61. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. Rui Xu, “Analysis of the Role of Music in Film Narrative,” Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, no. 368 (2019): 56.
  2. Xu, “Analysis of the Role of Music in Film Narrative,” 56.
  3. Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2019), 667.
  4. Cesare Zavattini, “Some Ideas on The Cinema,” in Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology, ed. Scott MacKenzie(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014): 51.

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StudyCorgi. "The Best Offer: A Mise-en-Scene Analysis." January 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-best-offer-a-mise-en-scene-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Best Offer: A Mise-en-Scene Analysis." January 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-best-offer-a-mise-en-scene-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Best Offer: A Mise-en-Scene Analysis'. 7 January.

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