Truth is relative…
Feeling like it was pulled from the pages of some trashy novel that you’d read while sitting on the beach all day (and you possibly may have) The Burnt Orange Heresy is dripping with style for days that makes it a fun watch, even in those moments when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Irresistibly charismatic art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) hooks up with provocative and alluring American, Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki). He’s a classic anti-hero in the making with a charm that masks his ambition, whilst she’s an innocent touring Europe, enjoying the freedom of being whoever she wishes. The new lovers travel to the lavish and opulent Lake Como estate of powerful art collector, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Their host reveals he is the patron of Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) the reclusive J.D. Salinger of the art world, and he has a simple request: for James to steal a Debney masterpiece from the artist’s studio, whatever the cost.
The Burnt Orange Heresy is compelling sleaze of the highest order as this film, adapted from the novel by Charles Willeford simply oozes on to the screen melding beauty and high class with the ugly nature of ambition.
Director Giuseppe Capotondi has put something together here that is simply impossible to look away from when it peaks in beauty and wallows in ugliness. It’s a strong narrative thanks to solid script from Scott B Smith who adapted it from the book but here in Capotondi’s hands the material really manages to find genuine life. It all has a smooth rhythm to it and our director isn’t afraid to let certain shots linger a little more than you’d expect to give it all a very stunning but ultimately insidious feel to it all. The stunning locations just lull us into what is ultimately a very dirty story that is pulp personified and it all comes to life thanks to some excellent performances.
If you took Jon Hamm from Mad Men and gave him a European accent, you’d have Claes Bang who just oozes sleaze, sex and the ability to exist in high class all at the same time. It’s rare to see such a likeable dirt bag in any medium but here he is, we get roped in by his charm and good looks but can still see the kind of person he actually is just underneath the surface. He hasn’t quite gotten enough traction yet, but with the right project; Claes Bang is undoubtedly the next crossover star from Europe to Hollywood.
Elizabeth Debicki isn’t that far behind him as she continues to show some incredible range as the alluring yet fairly naive stranger that come into his life, while Mick Jagger in a small but key role brings some necessary sinister ambivalence to it all while Donald Sutherland is the purest nature of art personified. These are four characters in a world coming at a situation from very different viewpoints and getting to watch the interplay is quite fascinating. Every character in this film, who claims to be one thing, is actually something else. It doesn’t always follow a clear sense of logic, but the mood and the atmosphere in this story is incredibly clear from minute one.
The Burnt Orange Heresy is a very sly way of subverting our relationship to art and how we interpret it all, reminding us that the value comes down to the individual interpretation and not so much what other people say.
It’s a fuck you to critics all across the land, which is why as a critic myself, I kind of love it.