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The Burnt Orange Heresy Review: Intriguing Pretentiousness

In the search for meaning, Guiseppe Capotondi’s The Burnt Orange Heresy doesn’t quite reach the artistic heights it aims for.

Entering an art gallery as someone without an appreciation, understanding or predilection for fine art can be a daunting and frustrating experience. One can look at a piece of art and long to find the supposed meaning or feel the desired emotions, yet never fully connect with the work in front of them. It’s an experience not entirely dissimilar to watching Giuseppe Capotondi’s film, The Burnt Orange Heresy, which gets its long-awaited digital release in the U.K. on February 22nd.

Based on the novel of the same name from Charles Willeford, The Burnt Orange Heresy sees ambitious art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) invited to the Lake Como home of wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Whilst there, he is instructed to obtain a painting from famously reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), but soon finds his carefully curated plan and budding relationship with the enigmatic Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) falling apart.

The slow, creeping opening shot is evocative of the first two thirds of Capotondi’s slick and stylish thriller. Seemingly languorous in setting up the stakes, the film soaks in the dichotomy of stunning Italian vistas drenched in murky, monochromatic lighting and leans heavily on hidden meanings and metaphors. But then it falls off the rails somewhat, speeding to a dizzying and semi-unsatisfying conclusion that doesn’t pack the punch it thinks it does. It is effective as a noir in creating intrigue and suspicion, and immediately establishes James as disingenuous – he expertly crafts a suitably high-brow sounding lecture for a group of bored tourists, before gleefully pulling the rug out and informing them it’s entirely fictitious –, but the film suffers from a relatively thin plot and struggles to maintain that intrigue all the way through.

loud and clear reviews The Burnt Orange Heresy
Mick Jagger and Claes Bang in The Burnt Orange Heresy (Sony Pictures Classics)

This is somewhat of a running theme throughout the film, with every character in the character-driven thriller remaining frustratingly mysterious. Like the plot, the characters themselves are quite thin and aren’t given a whole lot to do outside of dialogue that is simultaneously verbose and innocuous – saying a lot without really saying anything at all – but the cast manage to keep it afloat with their performances. Bang and Debicki’s chemistry sells their infatuation-at-first-sight, with the former masking James’ murkier traits under a hedonistic charm; Jagger practically screams ‘eccentric rich guy’ in a somewhat stilted but decent performance, and Sutherland’s knack for infusing every single line with subtext invites interest in the personal stakes, if not full commitment from the audience.

It is a film heavily reliant on symbolism and metaphors, that can’t decide whether it wants to be subtle or not. One metaphor is repeatedly thrust to the forefront, and the next is blink-and-you’ll miss it. And the themes of the film are well developed – the absurdity and fickleness of reputation, the search for meaning when there is none, and the banal pomposity and inauthenticity of high-brow art criticism – but the pretentious canvas upon which they are presented somewhat dampens their effectiveness. Capotondi’s film has both style and substance, but postures with more than is actually present. The psychological aspect of the thriller is there, as is the meaning and the emotion, it’s just hidden under the visuals. Much like fine art, one might find.

The Burnt Orange Heresy: Trailer (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Burnt Orange Heresy will be available to Download and Keep in the U.K. on February 22, 2021, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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