The Offering (Cert 15)

Digital/VOD (Distributor: Sovereign Film Distribution) Running Time: 112 minutes approx.

Release Date – July 30th

Should the past stay in the past or does that one loose end require tying up mean raking up old history to bring the closure one desires, regardless of how much pain and trouble it might cause? Obviously, this depends on the situation, but it also means facing up to that past yourself.

Jan (Alex Brendemühl) works for a group called Ulysses who provide an unusual service of recording video personal messages, and delivering them to a chosen recipient once the clients passes away. His latest delivery is to Rita (Verónica Echegui), a webcam girl receiving a penitent message from her abusive late father which drives her to attempt suicide, but is saved by Jan. After Rita’s recovery, they become a couple.

Years later, Rita visits married psychiatrist Violeta (Anna Alarcón) as a client, having discovered her husband’s fixation with another woman, having found photos of her. She says Violeta is that women and is thrown out, leaving behind a folder of evidence. Violeta looks through the photos and is shocked to see some taken twenty years ago, when she had an ill-fated youthful summer affair with Jan.

Apologies if this reads a bit glib but Ventura Durall’s psycho sexual drama is a rather glib affair in itself. It is one of those films you can tell within the first ten minutes will polarise opinion, but not so much loving or hating it, but understanding it or not. The Offering does boast a fairly straightforward plot but is executed in such a fashion it might require a couple of viewings to pick up on all the crucial details.

This then presents a problem in discerning the meaning behind it all, whether it is, as I proffered, about leaving the past behind, or is a sordid tale about a male ego looking for validation after twenty years of inner turmoil. It raises questions about what love exactly is, whether being honest with others is the same as being honest with yourself, and perhaps crucially, that happiness isn’t always the reward at the end of the journey.

Violeta’s life with teacher Nico (Pablo Molinero) and their two young children seems a typically happy one but even before Rita drops her bombshell, cracks show in the union are already present. An intimate moment is curtailed by Violeta when their youngest son won’t stop crying. Prior to this, Violeta was mentally and emotionally elsewhere as Nico was having his way, a scene designed to delineate trouble in paradise but also makes Nico seem like the selfish one.

Unbeknownst to Nico, his wife has a secret; well a few actually – from the pills hidden in the bathroom to sedate her to the blast from the past that is about to detonate in everyone’s faces. Courtesy of flashbacks, the origin of the relationship between a young Violeta (Claudia Riera) and her free-spirit summer hook-up Jan (Josh Climent) reveals a clichéd scenario of Violeta fleeing her bossy parents on the back of Jan’s motorcycle and off on a road trip of skinny dipping, and bonking wherever the mood takes them.

But it ends with Violeta waking up one morning to find Jan has gone, marking the last time she would hear from him for twenty years. It was a throwaway comment from Rita opining forgiveness should be asked for face to face and not via video that gets Jan thinking. As the film progresses we realise Jan is guilty of this with Violeta and can’t face her to apologise after all this time, but did it really warrant ten years of stalking her and creating contrived meetings? Doesn’t Facebook exist in Spain?

Now the problem becomes how we are supposed to view Jan – do we sympathise with him because he knew he made a huge mistake back then and this elaborate plan was the safest way to re-enter Violeta’s life? Or should we be creeped out by the fact he is in a relationship with Rita yet still pines for his ex, and plays on Rita’s dependency on him to help execute this unsavoury operation?

Durall co-wrote the script with two female writers, offering plenty of insight with regard to the psychology of the female characters as well as agency, complexity, and gumption. However, the rampant nudity is all female and the implication that sex is all these strong headed women mean to their men isn’t counterbalanced by their input; in other words, aesthetically this a male gaze film which spills over into the narrative.

Ironically, the most believable character here is Rita, standing out through an electric performance from Verónica Echegui, as the only one true to herself in this situation and for whom sex and life actually have meaning. This should posit Rita as a victim since she could lose Jan to Violeta (strictly speaking this applies to Rico too) but being naively complicit in Jan’s plan clouds this sympathy a little.

Conversely, Violeta has a darker unpredictable edge due to years of repressed memories and personal secrets, which Anna Alarcón conveys with the chill of a serial killer; her eyes almost permanently fixed in a steely stare, in contrast to the empty blue eyes of Alex Brendemühl’s Jan, the annoyingly blank slate of the cast.

Earlier, I mentioned this is a film where people may or may not get everything Durall is trying to say. He asks a lot of questions but knows he doesn’t have the answers so he expects the audience to have them instead. Many films do leave it up to us to draw our own conclusions, only it helps to have a compelling and plausible tale to inform us, and Durall might a lose some people here, especially at the end.

Maybe a repeat viewing might make the message and moral of The Offering clearer to me, but it can’t be denied it carries enough intrigue through being confusing to keep us keen in seeing how it unfolds. A beguiling film indeed.

Rating – ***

Man In Black

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