By Lynn Venhaus
A juicy neo-noir thriller, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” has a lush backdrop, a steamy love affair and a fascinating setting in the international art world.
James Figueras (Claes Bang), a charming and ambitious art critic, spends his days in Milan lecturing tourists about art history. It’s an easy way to make a buck and he is quite good at it. He is invited to the estate of wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) and brings along new love interest Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), an American on holiday. Also living on the property near Lake Como is reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland).
As James has fallen from grace, a shot at redemption is appealing – and provides a financial opportunity. But is this scheme worth it? Turns out, everyone has secrets! As a web of intrigue gets more tangled, we learn more about the four people who are integral to this story.
Based on Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel, the film has much to recommend. The script is adapted by Scott B. Smith, whose book-turned-into-film “A Simple Plan” followed a similar pattern of a too-good-to-be-true scheme that goes horribly awry.
We’re in Milan as the story begins with witty banter between smart and attractive people — and sparks soon fly between Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debecki.
Once we arrive at the luxurious northern Italian villa owned by the rich and roguish Joseph Cassidy, there is a palpable air of mystery. What fate awaits?
Man of the house Mick Jagger, who is only in two scenes, makes the most of his mischievous international wheeler-dealer. With a twinkle in his eye and hints at danger, he’s fun to watch.
So is Donald Sutherland as a reclusive aging artist. Debney’s reputation rises and falls, a sign of art’s hard-to-interpret and sometimes fickle nature. Director Giuseppe Capotondi shows both the sophistication and the pretensions of the art world.
This is Capotondi’s first English-language feature after the intriguing “The Double Hour” in 2009, and he is good at setting up symbols and clever with details. With cinematographer David Ungaro and production designer Totoi Santoro, they give us breathtaking panoramas and an opulent estate. Composer Craig Armstrong’s score enhances the ‘something’s afoot’ tone.
Bang, who made the art satire “The Square” a few years ago, and Debecki, good in “Widows,” have terrific chemistry from the start. Her small-town teacher character is more enigmatic than he is, and the men are all captivated by her.
That is why the third act, which some find problematic, worked for me. It may stretch logic a tad, but all film noir has delicious zigs and zags.
As a luscious summer escape, sink into a gorgeous place with pretty people and signs of temptation everywhere – where will it lead? Follow the twists and turns, and you will be rewarded.
“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a thriller directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, starring Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debecki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland. It is Rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence. Run-time is: 99 min.
Lynn’s Grade: A-
Video on Demand and Select Theatres This film closed the Venice Film Festival last fall and is now available on demand and is playing in select theaters, including the Hi-Pointe Theatre, as of Aug. 7.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.