The Burnt Orange Heresy – TIFF 2019 Review

Continuing the now well-known tradition of “films about art which happen to star the always fantastic Claes Bang”, with this year’s TIFF-selected Lyrebird included in this infamous series of films; The Burnt Orange Heresy may be Bang’s bleakest and most proactive film in a long while. Taking form as a traditional noir-heist flick, The Burnt Orange Heresy ends up becoming a much more sinister bi-product of it’s riveting commentary on all things business, distribution, and self-critique. After a decade from directing the critically acclaimed The Double Hour, Giuseppe Capotondi returns with his dry and sardonic direction, with a film that will provoke and likely aggravate the most sensitive of viewers. 

The opening hour of The Burnt Orange Heresy is surprisingly slow and dreadful. We witness art-historian and critic James (Claes Bang), as he conveniently seduces Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) at a lecture, before a fateful meeting with Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), where he requests James to steal a painting from famed reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland); a painter cursed with a history of misfortune. The concept sounds neat on paper, yet the pacing feels elongated to point where it becomes boring. The progression of the events honestly didn’t have to be this long. In fact, this could have worked better as a forty-minute short film. The Burnt Orange Heresy doesn’t particularly ooze with visual style, and the lack of locations, and prominent usage of the enclosed environment, almost gives the feeling of the film becoming a rather estranged stage play. 

It’s not until right before the finale, where the film picks up the pace, and actually cares about it’s characters and symbolic intent. Some may argue that the final twenty minutes are particularly rushed; yet what’s being said about the obsessive ruling of the art industry, more than makes up for some off-pacing. The situational drama becomes enthralling, where the film goes head over heels with its politics. It’s rough around the edges with it’s blunt messages, but Capotondi’s ambition can’t be left unseen, or acknowledged. The film questions the audience’s perspective on the film’s protagonist, provoking discourse for all confused about James’ malicious intent. 

It’s difficult not to spoil the The Burnt Orange Heresy. The disturbed finale has plenty of metaphorical weight, with its interpretation of the art world. It draws a fine line between satire and riveting genre fare, with it’s sadistic commentary on the preservation of male ego’s in an industry, where the influence of one’s reputation is more important than a person’s life; a woman’s life in particular. It does take some time to reach it’s peak, yet Capotondi’s stylized heightened mania makes up for the overly-indulgent and slow first two acts.

The Burnt Orange Heresy screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in 2020

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