The provocative “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” based on Charles Willeford‘s novel, is a talky, sophisticated film that caters to the highbrow art loving crowd.
This dark and cynical movie tells the story of art critic James (Claes Bang) and his mysterious American lover Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki), who are invited to the opulent Lake Como estate of a powerful art collector named Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Not fully aware of why they’ve been summoned, the couple travel to the Italian countryside. It is there that their host reveals that he is the patron of the reclusive painter Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), known worldwide as the J.D. Salinger of the art world, and that the artist is living in the guest house on property. Cassidy demands, using the threat of blackmail, that James steal the last remaining painting from Debney’s studio to complete his rare collection.
It’s a great heist narrative, but the film is about much more than a simple theft (or the power of a critic). The story is packed with metaphors and symbolism, crowding an already pretentious opus on the art of deception. It’s not exactly a satirical look at the futility of the art world, but director Giuseppe Capotondi makes his point both visually and with periods of dry, uninteresting dialogue that never really comes full circle. Capotondi keeps his audience in the dark, providing little clarity about the motivations of every character. As James allows his own ambition and greed to take control of his very being, things quickly spiral out of control, and the movie picks up steam.
Nothing about “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is as exciting as the plot premise would have you believe, but at least it’s never boring. The film is well cast and the performances, especially the all-too-brief turn from Jagger, are first-rate. Still, it may prove to be a tough watch for most casual viewers because the film can feel more frustrating than entertaining. It’s not that the movie itself is slow, it’s just a little too dull, eventually succumbing to its own themes about the emptiness, meaningless, and nothingness of art.
By: Louisa Moore