The Burnt Orange Heresy
Viewed at Venice 2019.
TBOH is an Art heist thriller Directed by Italian Giuseppe Capotondi, based on a 1971 neo-noir novel by American writer Charles Willeford (died 1988) starring Danish actor Claes Bang and Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, and featuring British Rock legend Mick Jagger (76) plus Canadian veteran character actor Donald Sutherland (84). A truly international combination of talent if nothing else.
Claes Bang (lead role in Ruben Östlund's 2017 festival hit, The Square) plays a charming, fast-talking, backstabbing, womanizing art critic Jacques Figueras, who will do anything, including blackmail, burglary, arson, and when necessary, murder -- to further his career. Debicki (awarded for her role opposite Dicaprio in fellow Aussie, director Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby, 2013) is an equally fast talking willowy blonde from a small town near Duluth who happens to be passing through the city of Milan which is the setting for the first half of the film.
At a bravura opening star art critic Figueras manipulates an audience into believing that a junky painting is a masterpiece then convinces them it's nothing but a cheap fake. An attractive blonde in the audience becomes his lover (Debicki) when she sees through his artful sham.
Figueras states that without criticism there can be no art and this first section on the role of criticism and the way it manipulates taste was enough to make my day. It then segues to Lake Como where a very wealthy art collector, Joseph Cassidy, cleverly acted by an aging Mick Jagger, hires Figueras to interview the most famous painter in the world, (Sutherland) a reclusive genius who normally never gives interviews but lives in a neighboring villa on the lake, his real job being to acquire one of the artists paintings for the Cassidy collection. Jagger then leaves for a few days in London leaving the persuasive critic and his willowy new girlfriend to have "the run of his estate" while he's gone.
It turns out that the enigmatic artist has lost all his masterworks in a fire and now passes his days contemplating an empty canvas. And now the story careens out of control.
Without going into the gory details Ferguson burns the villa down but steals an empty canvas upon which he will execute a trashy orange painting but will later pass it off as a masterpiece by the great artist he has meanwhile died. When the smart girlfriend from Duluth calls him out on his phoniness he has to get her out of the way, which he does, then dumps the body in the lake weighted down with a large rock. From charming art critic to psychotic murderer in one easy lesson. Moreover, at the end in a smart art galley vernissage where his "rediscovered masterpiece" by deceased artist Sutherland is on display he is confronted by Collector Jagger who hands him a letter from the missing mistress (Debicki) which contains a bunch of dead flies. One has to sit through the picture from the start to gather the significance of this. Anyway, our anti hero has gotten away with murder as the hairy tail comes to a badconclusion.
This high class artsy-fartsy drama was undoubtedly chosen for the prestige closing film spot at Venice because of the Italian connections, Italian director and Milano setting, as well as for the star billing of rock legend Mick Jagger.
I doubt, however, that it will do much box office business on general release because, for one thing, a title like this can kill a film before it ever gets off the ground ("Burnt Oranges, whutt?) and secondly; it is a bit too sophisticated for most general viewers (who would have to be familiar with such esoterica as the brush strokes of Modigliani, e.g..) and a bit too bitter of a drink for Mick Jagger fans. Jagger, it must be said, does a very convincing job in a role about as far from his rock star persona as one can imagine. This prancing rock band frontman can definitely act when called upon to do so. In sum, I enjoyed the first two thirds of the film, the lively love story, and the canny commentary on art criticism, etcetera -- but was let down by the acrimonious dénouement and came away with a slightly sour aftertaste.