The Offering


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Offering
"There's a lot of good work here, particularly in the way that Durall trusts his actors to fill out key aspects of the narrative without words."

The story of a man's dubious quest to win back the woman he abandoned two decades previously, The Offering is billed as an erotic thriller, but what does that mean, exactly? There's quite a bit of nudity but that's commonplace in Spanish film and doesn't necessarily suggest lust. There's one passionate sex scene, close to the end, but it's not especially explicit and is more interesting because of the complex and conflicting emotions which the actors are communicating at the same time. Earlier on, it's a sex scene between a married couple that stands out, and notably so because of the lack of passion involved. Nico (Pablo Molinero) is eagerly engaged but seems not to care that his wife is barely moving, as if this is something he has already become used to. She, Violeta (Anna Alarcón) has her face turned away from him and looks as if she would rather be anywhere else. She has, as it happens, just become aware of the return to town of her former lover, but whatever is wrong between her and her husband in plainly not new.

When the former lover, Jan (Alex Brendemühl), comes over for a meal, he explains to Nico, who is still unaware of the nature of that past relationship, that he runs a company which passes on final gifts and messages from dead people to those they leave behind. We are mostly too cowardly to say the important things directly whilst we still can, Nico observes. Neither man knows how to communicate, though each leverages his obsession differently. The only person who seems to enjoy sex and love for their own sake is Rita (Verónica Echegui, the standout in a solid cast), and she has the least power of all of them. She's let down by the script itself, given a cliché backstory which seems intended to demean, and she seems to have been specially selected by Jan, through his company work, because she will be easy to manipulate, yet still Echegui manages to bring her through it with some dignity, perhaps because Rita is the only character who really takes responsibility for her own failings.

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As a psychiatrist, Violeta might be expected to be sharper about what's going on around her, but she's numbed her senses with drugs. Seen in flashback, riding her bike, tall and confident in the saddle, she has a sense of direction long since lost. He day to day life is filled up by work and her children; she's just passing the time, as many people do, but any psychiatrist would be wary of attributing all this to a single cause. What glares out of this film, overwhelming everything else, is a sense of masculine self-importance which, whilst it makes for good thriller material, is difficult to take seriously. It's a story that would fall apart in the presence of a single woman with real agency.

That aside, the performances here are good, Brendemühl doing his best with a character who risks being crushed under the weight of his own ego, and director Ventura Durall knows when to slow down to give the women room to work with what they have. Alex García's cinematography has an airiness about it which, together with Durall's consciously unfussy style, points up the darkness to be found in broad daylight. There's very little music, letting viewers make up their own minds about what they see. The tangled way in which the plot unravels needs all this space, even if, in the end, one feels that it has taken an unnecessarily roundabout approach to arrive at a simple conclusion. It reflects the psychological journey of the characters but doesn't really give us enough reason to connect with them early on, so some viewers will struggle to make the necessary investment.

There's a lot of good work here, particularly in the way that Durall trusts his actors to fill out key aspects of the narrative without words, but despite a superficial elegance it doesn't quite deliver as it should. Like Jan, it's just not quite as smart as it thinks it is, and it doesn't deserve a badge for solving the unnecessary problems it creates.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2021
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The Offering packshot
A man racked by guilt undertakes a complex scheme to win back the woman he abandoned 20 years previously.
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Director: Ventura Durall

Writer: Sandra Beltrán, Ventura Durall, Clara Roquet

Starring: Alex Brendemühl, Verónica Echegui, Anna Alarcón, Pablo Molinero, Claudia Riera

Year: 2020

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: Spain, Switzerland


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