Directed by: Giuseppe Capotondi
Premise: A disgraced art scholar (Claes Bang) is enlisted by a wealthy collector (Mick Jagger) to coax a reclusive painter (Donald Sutherland) into creating one last masterpiece. The scholar’s greed and insecurity drive him to make a series of disastrous choices.
What Works: The Burnt Orange Heresy includes Elizabeth Debicki as a woman who befriends Claes Bang’s art critic character and she accompanies him at the villa where they spend time with the painter. Debicki’s character may or may not be who she claims and although the part is underwritten Debicki brings a lot to the role, alternating authentic likability with suggestions of mystery. The Burnt Orange Heresy has a wry take on the art world as well as the role of critics and the way works of art are valued. In its best moments the film is witty but also smart. The Burnt Orange Heresy has a satirical spirit especially in the way it burns critics who read too much into a work or project value on it for absurd reasons and the picture sets itself up to be a sort of dark joke.
What Doesn’t: The Burnt Orange Heresy is fundamentally a mystery and it recalls the 1960s television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This film tells a similar kind of story and it shares the dark irony often found on Hitchcock’s television show. However, The Burnt Orange Heresy also feels like a short that’s been unnecessarily padded into a feature length. The movie has problems with pacing and tension. The story takes too long to get started and the conclusion wraps up far too quickly. The opening takes a long while to put its characters in place. It does a good job dramatizing who they are and establishing characters with action but the opening third of The Burnt Orange Heresy also has long stretches of dialogue that aren’t very engaging. We’re told what’s at stake for the art critic but nothing is very concrete and Bang’s character is neither likable nor interesting so it’s hard to invest in the character and what he wants. At a critical moment, Bang’s character reacts impulsively but the fallout of his choices has little tension. The filmmakers fail to generate any suspense that the scholar might face consequences for his actions and the picture concludes prematurely. The odyssey of Bang’s character doesn’t come to much of a conclusion nor does it tie into the story’s ideas about art and criticism. That’s a shame because The Burnt Orange Heresy is poised to make a bold final statement but the filmmakers don’t seem to know what they’re trying to say.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, and a trailer.
Bottom Line: The Burnt Orange Heresy is a mediocre mystery. The film entertains some interesting ideas and the elements are here to construct a provocative picture but the moviemakers don’t take advantage of the material.
Episode: #819 (September 27, 2020)