Art + pastoral European scenery = the stuff independent cinematic dreams are made of. With movie theaters trickling open, US audiences will be treated to their first big screen, feature film fair since March of this year. One of the options available to waiting viewers is The Burnt Orange Heresy. Is the suspenseful, art world thriller worth venturing out to theaters? Here’s what you need to know!
The Burnt Orange Heresy follows art critic and scholar James (Claes Bang) as he takes Bernice (Elizabeth Debicki), a lady he’s been… keeping company with, to the luxurious mansion of a friend and art benefactor (Mick Jagger). While there, he meets Jerome Debney, a legendary, but reclusive artist (Donald Sutherland). In a plot with a meandering pace, but constant twists and turns involving stolen paintings and murder, this is about all I can give without running into spoiler territory. So, that’s all you’re getting kids. Giuseppe Copotondi directs the film from a script by Scott B. Smith. The Burnt Orange Heresy is based on a novel by Charles Willieford.
The Burnt Orange Heresy takes place in that picturesque, European setting with which independent cinema always conducts a passionate love affair. Watching this movie, I found myself catching pleasant whiffs of works like Call Me By Your Name and Final Portrait. This means one thing, The Burnt Orange Heresy is gorgeous. Capotondi brings a pastoral aesthetic to the film, working in conjunction with cinematographer David Ungaro. The creative team does a stellar job capturing some truly beautiful, wide open, gorgeous landscapes while at the same time tapping into the sense of foreboding isolation at the root of this story. Certain frames of The Burnt Orange Heresy are just as gorgeous as some of the paintings lining the character’s walls.
Meanwhile, in this film, Elizabeth Debicki once again proves why she’s one of the most talented performers of her generation. In every role she tackles, and this one is no different, Debicki effortlessly injects a tremendous inner strength into some really fragile, down-and-out characters. In the hands of a different actress, a character like Bernice could be a real struggle, potentially finding herself merely a passive entry point for the audience. However, Debicki brings her inner resilience to the surface. We see her moments of strength in her superlative chemistry with Bang along with her humanity and fragility in some beautifully acted scenes with Donald Sutherland. If you haven’t gotten on the Elizabeth Debicki train yet– remedy that.
Watching this film through, The Burnt Orange Heresy employs a decidedly challenging tone and does meander slowly through much of the hour and 40 minute runtime. As a result the pacing feels a bit off. Though, once the movie hits the mid point in the second act and James’ true intentions in working with Jerome are made clear, the script whiplashes its way to the finish through a few difficult to predict twists.
At the same time the movie brings a similar, slow burn suspense to its character development. Bang’s take on James falls particularly into this category. The way the action is constructed, the audience largely follows the narrative through the eyes of Debicki’s Bernice. James very much takes the character through stages, peeling slowly through the layers of just who this complicated man truly is. As the story progresses, James gradually shifts from being a typically jaded academic and writer to eventually expose his struggles beneath the surface. It is so slow and so gradual when viewed through Bernice’s perspective, that by the time things become clear, it’s too late.
In this manner, The Burnt Orange Heresy feels like different movies as the script evolves, but it’s difficult to tell if that is really a bad thing. The movie does change pace a number of times and when all is said and done, the construction of the narrative doesn’t let any particular plot point really flourish as much as it could. However, what keeps this movie interesting is the vibrant performances of this talented cast. Bang and Debicki are stars to watch and their chemistry is really at the heart of The Burnt Orange Heresy.
All in all, The Burnt Orange Heresy proves itself to be a beautiful, but challenging work. The performances are layered and complicated in this feature, which can best be called a slow burn takedown of the art world. This, most assuredly won’t work for everyone, but for fans of quiet thrillers– think of certain Hitchcock films, or even chunks of Gone Girl— this would definitely be worth the price of a ticket if you’re venturing out to the theaters this weekend.
The Burnt Orange Heresy opens in theaters Friday August 21st.