The Burnt Orange Heresy

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Burnt Orange Heresy
dir Giuseppe Capotondi
scr Scott B Smith
prd David Zander, William Horberg, David Lancaster
with Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland, Rosalind Halstead, Alessandro Fabrizi, Fabio Melchionna, Obada Adnan
release US 6.Mar.20,
UK 30.Oct.20
19/Italy 1h39

debicki jagger sutherland

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The Burnt Orange Heresy
A slow-burn noir thriller, this European art-world movie spins a rather densely wordy adventure with a superbly eclectic cast. Director Guiseppe Capotondi nicely mixes offbeat interaction in gorgeous settings. And where the story goes is enjoyably messy, even if it's too dry for its own good and never quite makes sense. This is partly because it's impossible for any of the characters, or indeed the audience, to trust anyone.
Art critic James (Bang) enjoys educating people about how easy it is to manipulate the value of a painting. And he casually takes one fan, Berenice (Debicki), to bed. He also invites her to meet famed dealer Joseph (Jagger), who blackmails James into procuring a painting from enigmatic artist Jerome (Sutherland) working in his Lake Como villa. After building up his expectations, including the hope of making a personal windfall, Jerome's studio isn't what James expects, and he begins to worry about what it might mean for him. So he makes an audacious, dangerous decision.
The title refers to a joke about how critics find meaning where there is none. So the script is packed with snaky conversations that meander around a variety of themes, anecdotes and hints of scandal, including each character's shady past. All of them are intriguing, especially since they seem to be up to something dodgy. And greed turns some of them downright evil. It's a beautifully crafted film, but it's a problem that no one is terribly sympathetic. And some of what happens feels rather bizarrely contrived.

The actors are provocative and understated, almost whispering their dialog, all of which makes the audience lean into the film. Bang brings his sexy everyman persona to the smart, slightly too-suave James. He generates terrific chemistry with Debicki, who plays Berenice as witty, confidently intelligent woman who clearly knows more about what's going on than she lets on. Jagger and Sutherland add their own spark of attitude in their scenes. And all four of these people have very different moral compasses.

Despite the film's dark tone, this is essentially a bleak satire of the art world, and the importance paintings acquire due to factors that have little to do with the artwork itself. The observations are astute and rather cynical, but essentially are just a backdrop for a twisty narrative about people who are lured to engage in subterfuge and much worse in an effort to earn an easy profit. And the plot's final gyrations are genuinely nasty, an unironic swipe at the seedy underbelly.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Oct.20

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