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  Burnt Orange Heresy, The Portrait Of The Damned
Year: 2020
Director: Giuseppe Catatondi
Stars: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland, Rosalind Halstead, Alessandro Fabrizi
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: James Figueras (Claes Bang) is an art critic who makes most of his income by lecturing for American tourists in Europe. Like today, when he tells them the story of this Nazi concentration camp artist, who painted portraits of the officers to keep him and his sister alive, but felt so much guilt about it that he never painted another picture once he had been released. Or did he? Did he even exist? James comes clean: he painted the canvas he is describing himself, and he is using it to demonstrate how much art relies on the critic to sum it up, interpret it, and most importantly, work out how much it is worth, fortune or not...

Meanwhile there is someone in the gallery who takes a great interest in James, and she is Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), a teacher from America who fancies a bit of fun, so takes him to bed with her - it's always a sign of a film without many thrills (at least until the final act) that they introduce the sexual angle early on to get the audience's hopes up there will be more on the horizon. Anyway, once the explicit nudity is initially out of the way, our protagonist invites Berenice to an Italian villa where the once-famous artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) is holed up in a studio. James reasons that with an attractive female companion with him, he will be more open to chat.

But first they must meet with the owner of the villa, a wealthy art dealer named Joseph Cassidy, and he is played by Mick Jagger, the rock star who was looking for a new role to get back into acting after a long spell away. Some have been, shall we say, less than complimentary about his acting in the past, so it must have given him some pleasure to appear in a movie where the critics of this world were taken to task, as that turns out to be the theme of the piece, how much an artwork, or indeed a performance, is worth when the people who tell you precisely that have a vested interest in keeping their own careers relevant, and if that means taking down the artists and performers, so be it.

Actually, Jagger had some pretty warm reviews for his role here, he is not in it very much, mostly near the start and near the end, but he understood the best approach here was to be arch, self-amused, and that was exactly right for that summed up the tone. Not that it was objectionable, though Debicki's character eventually ends up going through hell in a noticeably nineteen-seventies kind of way (and after taking her clothes off, too), but weighing it up it was not as if what happens to her has no consequences, and that gives her character worth as well. See, it was all about that price, be it financial or moral, and what that says about both the objects and people we choose to surround ourselves with, assuming - and this is important too - we can afford them. If we can, even at a push, do we gravitate towards them more?

James initially assumes Berenice is a well-off femme fatale to toy with, but that is not the case, and once he knows her truth, he is, shall we say, less keen on her than he was before: that snobbery that can go with someone who sizes things up for a living is very present. But James is worse than a snob, and if your mind sets to wandering amidst all these scenes of rarefied chit-chat, you may settle upon how this plot will resolve itself. At least one of the twists was fairly obvious, but Sutherland was the dark horse when we discover what he has been creating in his private studio all this time he has been out of the limelight, which panics James when he knows he could stake his reputation on Debney's work as its great interpreter. Lest you worry this will get too heavy with its ruminations on art, either that or fear you will lose patience with yet another movie talking critics down, bear in mind if was based on a 1971 novel by cult author Charles Willeford, Scott B. Smith (A Simple Plan, The Ruins) doing the adapting, and the basic framework was sturdy enough to support what transforms into a basic but amusing thriller with an unexpectedly poignant conclusion. Music by Craig Armstrong.

[The Burnt Orange Heresy is out on Digital on Monday 8th March 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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