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Film Review

The Burnt Orange Heresy

30 July

The Burnt Orange Heresy-director Giuseppe Capotondi’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s 1971 art-world crime novel-has charisma to burn in the form of its stars.” Stephanie Zacharek, TIME Magazine

The Burnt Orange Heresy is currently screening at Palace Cinemas.

In The Burnt Orange Heresy, director Giuseppe Capotondi broaches the world of high art with captivating and cynical wit, asking provocative questions about the meaning of art and the purpose of its critics and commentators.

The story follows the exploits of tightly-wound art historian and critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) and his recent acquaintance, American woman Berenice Hollis (Australia’s own Elizabeth Debicki). Shortly after the two meet at a book-promoting lecture Figueras is giving to “Gawking tourists”, the two accept a mysterious invitation to the Lake Como estate of art collector Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Cassidy plays the part of consummate art dilettante, blithely self-assured by his wealth and possessions, he slyly commissions Figueras and Hollis to befriend reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), whom he reveals has been living in isolation on the estate for years. Cassidy promises that, in exchange for one of Debney’s exceptionally-rare paintings (all of his previous works are said to have been destroyed in a fire), he will satisfy Figueras’ own gallery owning ambitions.

With its labyrinthian setup and novelly-sophisticated setting, it’s apparent that Capotondi intended for The Burnt Orange Heresy to be a send-up of the world it seeks to replicate. Adapted from Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel of the same name, the changing of the novel’s original Florida setting to Northern Italy only serves to dial-up the lavish high brow ambience of what is ostensibly a heist thriller. Those familiar with 2017 Palme d’Or winner The Square will know that Claes Bang is no stranger to playing the part of beleaguered men of the art world. Bang showcases many of the same acting chops here, embodying a character willing to compromise dignity and reputation for success. Scheming to steal one of Debney’s works, Figueras operates under the guise of conducting an exclusive interview with the artist. While Figueras is the film’s dramatic catalyst, Debicki is its allure and charm. A Minnesotan schoolteacher with an obscure past, Debicki’s Bernice Hollis provides the narrative with much of its sharpest dialogue and compelling personality. Specifically, her conversations with Debney (in a restrained performance from Sutherland) serve as incisive insights into a complex thematic core.

Suffice it to say, the intellectual and methodical conversations that substantiate the film’s first two-thirds lead to an appropriately-incendiary conclusion. Not all is fair in love and art theft, and with Figueras’ compromising deeds comes an unravelling of his professional and personal lives: Fame and notoriety, but at what cost?

This post was written by Patrick McKenzie, a freelance writer and staff member at Palace Norton St.

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