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VENICE 2019 Out of Competition

Review: The Burnt Orange Heresy

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- VENICE 2019: A nicely twisted little mystery does not quite 98 minutes make

Review: The Burnt Orange Heresy
Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy

First things first: that Claes Bang is on his way towards a career as an international he-man is great, as it can hardly happen to a nicer fellow. “Incredible that he’s never had a lead part,” said Ruben Östlund about the jobbing Danish actor of mainly television supporting parts (see, for example, Claudio, the call boy in The Bridge). When Östlund gave him the plum main role of Christian the art curator in the Palme d’Or-winning The Square [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
, things quite literally went “Bang”! He now has another lead, again as an art expert, in Giuseppe Capotondi’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s crime novel The Burnt Orange Heresy [+see also:
trailer
interview: Giuseppe Capotondi
film profile
]
, which brought the 2019 Venice International Film Festival to a close.

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Furthermore, Bang tops a bill that includes Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger. He plays James Figueras, an acknowledged Puerto Rican (as per the book) art critic who would like to do better than just giving lectures to female American tourists ticking off the culture box of their European vacation programme. He nevertheless puts the pedal to the metal as he dissects a seemingly ham-handed painting by a celebrated Norwegian artist who survived the Holocaust and, after this, vowed never to use a brush again. “Who would like a print?” he inquires, and all hands fly up in the air. He then confesses to having lied his head off and that the doodling is his own. All hands come down bar one: that of a cool, young Hitchcock-style blonde from Duluth with nothing better to do that weekend… Next thing we know, our Scandi-Hispanic Cary Grant and Aussie-Minnesotan Grace Kelly (Elizabeth Debicki, of The Great Gatsby) relocate to the bedroom of his Milan flat, and a little later, they head for Lake Como. Enter Jagger.

Mick plays Cassidy, an art collector as wealthy as your favourite pick of any 1960s rock star, who happens to have a wild ace up his sleeve. None other than the most legendary of reclusive artists, one Jerome Debney (Sutherland), currently resides in the pool house of Cassidy’s estate. Would Figueras like to interview the never-before-interviewed genius? Affirmative. Then comes the catch: Figueras will have to unearth, and seize, a piece of new artwork from Debney, of whose output nothing has been seen in five decades. Needless to say, unrest ensues. At the end of a day of theft, forgery and even death, our art critic who would like to do better had better ask himself: should I be careful what I wish for?

While The Burnt Orange Heresy would work perfectly well as a twisted little mystery short, it does not quite cut it as a 98-minute feature. Some parts conspicuously lack the presence of Jagger and Sutherland, whose shooting availability may have been limited (they share no scenes). As for our man Bang, whose showcase this essentially is, he may well have finally arrived as the Continental Pierce Brosnan. As such, one hopes for some interesting phone calls from abroad and at home. Von Trier, perhaps?

The Burnt Orange Heresy is a production by the USA’s MJZ, Rumble Films and Wonderful Films, and Italy’s Indiana Production, with sales by HanWay and UTA/CAA (USA).

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