I’m sorry but I found Guiseppe Capotondi‘s The Burnt Orange Heresy strangely sodden and downish. I didn’t hate it and actually respected it for what it is — a heart of darkness tale about the wealthy and insincere. It’s a “good” film, I suppose **, but I’ll never watch it again. I felt vaguely drained when it ended.
It basically left me uncharmed and un-intrigued and wondering who would be so bone stupid as to try and dispose of a body in three or four feet of water? And in the daytime yet! And who, for that matter, would allow a certain dangerous fingerprint to be seen and inspected and wondered about by untold hundreds or thousands of art-gallery browsers?
Based on the same-titled 1971 book by Charles Willeford (who also wrote Miami Blues), Heresy is a kind of moral depravity drama about the fine fakery of art or the artfulness of fine fakery. Art forgery, pretension, specious assessments that persuade certain wealthy people to part with immense sums for this or that object d’art, empty myth and the general film-flammery of it all…fuck all or fuck off or whatever.
It’s basically a four character thing, and all it does, really, is hover. It never lands (not really) or generates much in the way of intrigue or suspense. It does give you a certain queasy feeling. Which is something.
The main protagonists, Milan-based art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) and a watchful Minnesota tourist named Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) are, for lack of a better term, the main protagonists. They meet at the very beginning and quickly fuck, and before you know it are cruising west in Figueras’ Range Rover to visit the super-wealthy Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) at his Lake Como villa.
Figeuras has an ethically questionable past, it seems, and Cassidy has discovered this, which is why he’s invited the Man from Milan to discuss a slightly dicey proposition.
A bearded J.D. Salinger-like painter named Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) lives on the grounds nearby, and Cassidy wants Figueras to steal one of his fabled paintings, even though Debney hasn’t sold or even shown any paintings in years. (He’s painted a few but has burnt them all, apparently.) And so the keenly ambitious Figueras, still with the stork-like Hollis, is soon chatting with Debney and before you know it…a surprise. A great feeling of disappointment, in fact, that knocks Figueras for a loop.
And before you know it there is great anger, flames, a forgery, a sudden disappearance, a death by stupidity (the victim, I mean, is too stupid to understand that expressing fierce moral outrage at an art crime is not the brightest idea when confronting the perpetrator) and a certain after-feeling of “uh-oh, I wasn’t smart enough to play my cards in such a way that I won’t get caught.”
Jagger gives the most amusing and flavorful performance. That Cheshire cat grin of his. I loved Bang in The Square and this time…well, he’s good enough. I didn’t get the wonderfulness of Debicki when I saw her in Widows, and I still don’t. Sutherland is okay as the reclusive painter but he doesn’t (i.e, isn’t allowed to) radiate much.
There isn’t a huge amount of Lake Como footage, but what little I saw I enjoyed. I’ve never actually been there — the closest I came was when I visited the nearby Locarno Film Festival in ’03. It was in the middle of a brutal heat wave, and the boys and I swam in Lago Maggiore every day.
** It doesn’t stink.