I write about movies and art, books, all art forms of one kind or another. In The Burnt Orange Heresy, the story deals with art and the art critic’s role in shaping the public’s view of art. I found the topic fascinating and had the added bonus of Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger both starring in the film. After watching it, I found the writing complex, the ideas intriguing, and the acting amazing. Donald Sutherland is a treasure to watch on screen.
Then Burnt Orange Heresy is an Italian-American drama thriller film directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and with a screenplay by Scott Smith. It is based on the book of the same title by Charles Willeford. In the film, a fiercely ambitious art critic and thief, James Figueras (Claes Bang), and his new lover, Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), are invited to the estate of an art collector, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Cassidy has invited James there to hire him to steal a painting from an enigmatic artist, Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland). James makes his plans but they don’t go as expected, leaving him careening out of control and willing to do anything, even murder, in order to help his career.
There are all kinds of fascinating layers to this film, little details that sneak up on you and make you reconsider every angle of the film, including the ending. Every detail brought up or mentioned early in the film is relevant and important in the story. From the beginning of the movie, where James is telling stories to tourists about the importance of critics to the presentation of art to later when he is popping pills. Berenice disguises her truths but calls him on his behavior which is relevant later on in the film. James talks about how critics shape art while Debney as an artist is amused by the ego James displays. All of these elements speak to the main message of the film which is that art is subjective and is shaped by the perceptions of the viewer and while critics can shape that experience, both for good and bad, it doesn’t take critics for people to enjoy art. And ultimately, that subjectivity is shown in the film as well in the layers of details that can mean different things to different people.
The intrigue begins slow but builds over time`. As you watch, James slowly devolves, his behavior crazier and the delusion of his own importance taking over as he intrigues to get one of Debney’s paintings. He hides what he is doing from Berenice but she still sees his struggles and tries to help him, her kindness a stark contrast to his misogyny. Debney himself contrasts with James, his genuine wisdom, talent, and charm opposite of James’ ego and his dishonesty. All of their behavior illustrates how deep in denial James is over his role in life.
While Donald Sutherland is a delight to watch, his is not the only performance that makes this movie so incredibly engaging. Debicki is beautiful and charming while Claes Bang does a brilliant performance as his character devolves into a kind of madness as he resorts to arson, forgery, and murder to get his way. Mick Jagger portrays Cassidy as smarmy and oily, his desire to collect art that only he can enjoy is almost as obscene as James’s willingness to sell his soul for his career. The talent in this film is extraordinary.
The beginning of the film is slow and while it does build and expand later, it does take a bit for all the details to build to an understanding of the layers of the story. The layers and complexity do make it a film that is worth exploring and diving into more than once in order to understand all the nuances and that slower pace makes the ending have more of an impact.
While I was expecting more art heist than thoughtful dramatic thriller from the description of the movie, I was happier with this film. It is nuanced, it is superbly well-acted and the story makes you really think about the impact of art. Moreover, it makes you realize how many people want critics to tell them what to think instead of deciding what art means to them and too few people take the time to enjoy art, absorb it for themselves. If you love art and thrillers, you might like this movie. Donald Sutherland is charming in his small role while Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, and Mick Jagger are impressive. This film is as artistic as the concepts it explores.
Rating: 4.5 canvasses out of 5.