The Burnt Orange Heresy with Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debecki is interesting but flawed

Mick Jagger (as Joseph Cassidy), left and Claes Bang (as James Figueras) in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Picture: Jose Haro
Mick Jagger (as Joseph Cassidy), left and Claes Bang (as James Figueras) in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Picture: Jose Haro

The Burnt Orange Heresy (MA15+)

2 stars

The complicated, ever volatile relationship between the artist and critic (and, sometimes, the audience) is one of the many ideas explored in The Burnt Orange Heresy.

The film, based on a novel by Charles Willeford, has a strange combination of elements.

One part of it is a rumination on art and artifice, tackling ideas such as what makes art good or bad, valuable or worthless, truth and lies, revealing or concealing, and what are the respective roles and value of the artist and the critic and the audience,

These ideas are packaged in a combination of earthy noir and heist film.

The pacing is uneven and the story has a fine beginning and ending, but in between gets a bit bogged down and silly, shifting tone and style drastically and not altogether successfully.

The film begins with art critic James Fuegas (Claese Bang) delivering a seminar on an abstract painting, telling its tragic backstory and discussing its meaning, before revealing the truth.

Although the artist he discussed was real, Fuegas himself slapped together the painting and fabricated his analysis to make people view it in a different light, demonstrating the power of a critic to influence and mislead people.

Afterwards, he's approached by a young American woman from the audience, Berenice (Australian actress Elizabeth Debecki ).

They quickly hook up, and we're treated to a couple of gratuitous sex and bathroom scenes.

Berenice accompanies James to Italy where he is meeting Joseph Cassidy (Rolling Stone and occasional actor Mick Jagger), a wealthy art collector. Cassidy makes the ambitious James an offer he can't refuse: the chance to interview James Debney (Donald Sutherland), a legendary, reclusive octogenarian artist whose complete works were destroyed in a couple of fires.

Cassidy is housing Debney in a bungalow on his property and has an ulterior motive: he wants an original Debney work for his collection and James is to obtain it for him.

And things go on from there. James is a somewhat repellent character, a sleazy, cynical opportunist, and Debney is whimsical and a bit platitudinous.

Berenice is not much of anything, unfortunately: Debecki is stuck in an underwritten role.

Jagger's charisma helps compensate for the fact his character is a bit stock.

There's a lot of dialogue in Scott B. Smith's screenplay, and it is often arch.

This makes some sense as the characters have their defences up and secrets to conceal, but sometimes it feels just a little too precious.

The Burnt Orange Heresy's release was one of many delayed by several months because of COVID-19. I saw it at the recently reopened Dendy and wondered why it wasn't considered a candidate for streaming - it's not a big spectacle or potential blockbuster. more an uneasy hybrid of arty film and commercial movie.

While the various parts of the film don't always sit easily together and it might seem a bit pretentious - it probably deserves the description "Deep down, it's shallow,", the cast and settings make it worth a look if the ideas interest you.

It's just a pity they weren't given better treatment.

This story Good ideas but flawed execution first appeared on The Canberra Times.