Review by Sean Boelman
Understandably divisive after its premiere on the festival circuit last fall, there are a lot of ways to describe Guiseppe Capotondi’s The Burnt Orange Heresy, and straightforward is not one of them. Filled with interesting ideas, even if not all of them are fully developed, this is an entertaining and often unexpected thriller.
The film follows an art critic who is tasked with stealing a rare painting from an enigmatic and reclusive artist, soon discovering that everything may not be as it appears. And although that may seem like a heist movie, that isn’t a particularly accurate description, as the film is more of a dramatic satire of the art world than anything else.
What is likely to be most off-putting about the movie is its bizarre pacing. For the first two acts, it is a very restrained drama, building itself on its characters and symbolism. Then, around the one-hour mark, things start to go off-the-wall and an unreliable narrator element is introduced, which will throw off many viewers. While it does stick the landing, Scott B. Smith’s script is certainly uneven.
The character development is intriguing because the protagonist isn’t a character that the audience is really supposed to like, and there are some aspects of his arc that feel out-of-place. The supporting characters are far more compelling, but a significant motif in the movie is the idea of trust and the fact that none of the characters are necessarily deserving of it.
All three of the main stars — Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, and Donald Sutherland — do an excellent job of bringing this ambiguity to the screen in an interesting way. Mick Jagger in his supporting role is a little odd, giving a performance that isn’t bad by any means but also doesn’t quite fit.
As expected, the movie is quite stylistic, and it often looks great. The use of visual symbolism in the film is absolutely brilliant. There is a motif involving flies that is truly striking and thought-provoking. And given that the movie is so related to art, David Ungaro’s cinematography is excellent.
That said, perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is what it has to say. There are a lot of ideas floating around here about art and creating meaning out of things. It’s actually quite surreal to analyze a piece of art that is designed to lampoon the analysis of art, as it makes one think twice about their interpretation.
The Burnt Orange Heresy is a thought-provoking movie in many ways, and despite a few moments where it veers off course, it mostly does a very good job. It will be interesting to see where further discussion takes this film.
The Burnt Orange Heresy opens in theaters on August 7.