“The Burnt Orange Heresy” – a film review by Gary Chew
When a motion picture distributor invited me to watch an online screening of The Burnt Orange Heresy, I thought, “Oh boy, someone has released a new lampooning or parody film about Donald J. Trump. It should be a timely laff-riot for all thinking Americans.” WRONG!
The title is only a “happy” coincidence. Au contrarie, there is nothing funny about this engaging 2019 Italian import, directed by Giuseppi Capotondi. The screenplay by Scott B. Smith was adapted from a novel carrying the same title by Charles Welleford.
The cast, I think, is not smashing, but formidable: Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Debicki and, new to American movie theaters, a Dane named Claes Bang. Hr. Bang looks as though he could be distantly related to the late, famous British film actor, James Mason; just taller and with less polish.
The Burnt Orange Heresy isn’t an art film so much as it is a film about art; art that’s expressed on canvas with paint … no, not an art film, but a picture about how dark circumstances might become when exploring the deceit that lurks when art and big money for its sale come to bear on the immorality of mortals.
The mortals in this photo play are Berenice (Debicki); James (Bang); Jerome (Sutherland) and Joseph (Jagger). Berenice isn’t easy to figure at the outset, but not much worry needs given to what or who she is because of the beauty she scatters in most of her scenes. James is a well-published art critic. Jerome is an aging, out-of-the-swim, but renowned artist. And Joseph is an ultra-wealthy, oleaginous art dealer who calls his grand, warm-weather Italian estate “a summer cottage.” Jagger is cast perfectly. It’s likely that Joseph … the character … has more money than all of the Rolling Stones … rolled into one.
Following a first meeting between James and Berenice at one of James’ art lectures, and then they — to quote Terri Garr — “have a little roll in the hay,” the critic accepts an invitation from Joseph to travel to his “summer cottage” on a pristine Italian lake for some no nonsense artist/art dealer shoulder rubbing. The timing is just right for James to ask Berenice to come along for the ride … to which she agrees.
Part of the visit to Joseph’s estate has to do with Jerome, who lives isolated in a dilapidated abode on Joseph’s property. Jerome is a retired but still regaled artist of considerable merit. James is dying to tap Jerome’s mind and publish the goodies bound to be there, thus making the critic even more of a household name in the smug, upscale atmosphere of art-loving elitists … real and fake.
Submerged in this setting of beautiful, well-off people in a high glam Italian atmosphere, conditions really “vai a sud.” (Read subtitle: “Go south.”) The ways the narrative goes “south” are in several directions; not that the The Burnt Orange Heresy loses its punch, but specifically, southward for two of its main characters … one of whom you’ll learn to love, and the other … to hate.
Donald Sutherland has been a long time favorite movie actor of mine. That unbelievably creepy film he was in … Klute … comes to my mind most readily. And how can we ever forget Sutherland being the actor who was the first Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H? Sutherland’s performance is just slightly more than a cameo here in Orange Heresy. His acting the part isn’t in question, but his wandering about in more than one accent is discomforting. It’s difficult to assign what region of the world our old Jerome is from. I got a bit of the American Southwest as where he grew up; but then again, Jerome just might be from the city and has spent most of his creative years on European campuses and in Parisian bistros. The lingo written (all in English) for his character is poetic and sublime, mostly when speaking to Berenice.
Speaking again of Berenice, or specifically, Elizabeth Debicki, she’s super perfect; though I don’t have a strong recollection of her in much, except as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, a la Leonardo De Caprio. Jordan is a fascinating Fitzgerald secondary character, but for some reason, Debicki didn’t click in my head on seeing that roaring redux. The Berenice character is someone I will surely not forget. Even with Sutherland, Jagger and Bang, the new Danish male lead, Debicki cannot be denied in this haunting and rather decadent thriller containing more twists than you think you’ve figured out before they happen.