Film reviews

Italian Film Festival continues with 'Balancing Act,' 'Best Offer'


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'Balancing Act' 3.5stars

Two movies with men at opposite ends of the economic spectrum -- one sliding toward homelessness, the other with years of accumulated art treasures -- will play Friday and Saturday as part of the Italian Film Festival.

The event, which opened last week, will conclude next weekend with three additional films. All are free and open to the public. For more information, www.italianfilmfests.org.

By the time a stranger cautions Giulio that "divorce is for the rich, people like us can't afford it," he already has realized that. As he confides to a friend, "Things are a nightmare. No matter what I do, it's not enough."

Giulio (Valerio Mastandrea) made an unforgivable, or certainly unforgettable, mistake. He had an affair, and although he is a caring, attentive dad to his 16-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, his wife cannot get the infidelity (and texts to his paramour) out of her head.

He agrees to leave, find a nearby apartment so he can see their children and, once a formal agreement is hatched, to pay 73 percent of the mortgage. His wife keeps their motor scooter and he gets the couple's car, never imagining he might be reduced to sleeping in it, as his fortunes and spirits fall.

"Balancing Act" shows the indignities large and small as Giulio, who works for the City of Rome, hides what is happening from his family. His plaintive plight plays out on his face with a mixture of panic, desperation, anger, shame and exhaustion -- physical, mental, emotional. It's no wonder he won Italy's version of the Oscar, the David di Donatello Award, for this role.

This drama is a wrenching, frightening portrait of a family losing its balance and in danger of never recovering it. Although set in Italy, it could just as easily take place in America where someone isn't just one paycheck away from disaster or homelessness but one stable marriage, too.

In Italian with English subtitles. Plays at 7 p.m. Friday, Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, 650 Schenley Drive, Oakland.

'Best Offer' 3stars

As an art expert and auctioneer, it's no surprise that Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) must don gloves to handle precious pieces.

But, he owns dozens of impeccably maintained sets which he wears at virtually all times -- when eating dinner in an elegant restaurant, talking on the telephone or tending to his private, prodigious collection at his home. They literally keep him at a remove from the world, which is only appropriate given his refined universe, haughty airs and solitary existence.

Virgil's life is upended when he receives a call on his 63rd birthday from a woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who wants him to assess the heirlooms in her family's villa. "Best Offer," from Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso," "Everybody's Fine," "Malena"), follows what happens when Virgil is confronted with a real-life but tormented beauty rather than one frozen in time and oils in a gilt frame.

"Best Offer," also starring Jim Sturgess as a mechanical wizard and Donald Sutherland as an old acquaintance of the auctioneer, is entirely, utterly dependent on the ability of Mr. Rush to make us feel his rigidity and chilliness, his thaw and wonder at letting his guard and gloves down, and his reactions to what comes next.

It's all here: the love of art, the art of love, the obsession to collect, the line between robotic and real, the connection between original and forgery, and the ability to fool the eye with trompe l'oeil and grander acts of trickery. Composer Ennio Morricone helps to set the mysterious mood with his score.

You will either buy the machinations or find them improbable, at best. But if you don't examine the canvas too closely, you might be struck by the cleverness and theatricality of the whole.

In English, 7 p.m. Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theatre, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland.


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