This is a Catalan neo-noir from director Ventura Durall that has a certain literary class: it’s wrapped in Hitchcockian shadow, fascinated by questions of identity, desire and time. But it’s a shame that Durall doesn’t find his torrid and sophisticated story the visual register it deserves, leaving The Offering with a humdrum televisual ambience that’s a bit unsatisfying.
Violeta (Anna Alarcón) is an apparently thriving psychologist who is one day confronted with a client, Rita (Verónica Echegui), who makes a disturbing revelation: she has discovered that her husband Jan (Alex Brendemühl) is still obsessed with his first love from 20 years back … Violeta. The increasingly brazen Rita tries to manoeuvre her into meeting Jan, ostensibly to cure their marital problems. As Violeta pop pills and prevaricates, flashbacks reveal the devastating impact of her youthful beachside romance, back when she was a wild child.
There’s a splinter of Vertigo in this compulsion to recover a foundational love at all costs, and Durall – who also co-wrote – gives this backwards-clutching narrative a neat little extra element: Jan is the founder of a morbid gift company that records and delivers posthumous video messages to relatives and friends from dying people. (We learn in the prologue that this is how he meets Rita, a fellow marooned soul.) Salvation, as well as original sin, lies in the past.
The film has operatically overblown hothouse potential. But apart from a beautiful title image, with a young Violeta sprawled semi-naked in a beach cave like Venus de Milo, Durall directs it diffidently – lots of handheld his go-to approach. More visual firepower might have given the story, prone to some midway languors and repetition, greater definition. The actors, though, are solidly locked in to the obsessional atmosphere, especially Pablo Molinero as Violeta’s appalled husband; appalled, presumably, because he doesn’t get to participate in a screaming pressure-valve of a sex scene that follows.
• The Offering is available in cinemas and on digital platforms on 30 July.