Director Giuseppe Capotondi (The Double Hour) posits illusion against truth in an attractive setting with a cast that makes the proceedings alluring for a while.
The Burnt Orange Heresy stars Claes Bang (The Square), Elizabeth Debicki of Windows and earlier The Great Gatsby Mick Jagger and estimable Donald Sutherland (Ad Astra, and The Hunger Games).
The source is a Charles Willeford 1971 novel which may also remind some discerning folks of Patricia Highsmith transfers to the silver screen. Here Bang’s art critic/historian James Figueras (Jacques in the book) has an opportunity to capitalize on failed ambitions as an artist as he’s been displaying a certain knack for “the power of the critic” while on speaking engagements for U.S. tourists in Milan.
Jagger’s scenery-chewing urban dealer in Joseph Cassidy invites him to interview renowned and aloof Jerome Debney, an eccentric, if thoughtful Sutherland. From one of James’ talks comes a new worldly love interest in Berenice, endowed with some inscrutable flair and allure by the rising Debicki, who happens to be a school teacher from Duluth, Minnesota. Beyond the talking-head could be a way to procure one of his stashed reproductions. The strange title begins to crystallize as these disparate figures are around one another for a while.
Being around Cassidy’s Lake Como villa is easy on the eyes as this quartet is in various set-ups with plenty of discourse (the nature of art being a topic) that can make for a draggy pace especially in the midsection. Band and Debicki pretty much lead the way as hubris and a bit duplicitous baggage are essential for this narrative infrastructure.
It’s just that the adaptation of Scott B. Smith (A Simple Plan) adheres to formula when making a more ominous switch. Not that it really goes off the rails with bloodless strokes, but the Italian filmmaker doesn’t have the deft touch to be a deceptively compelling import, especially after support and visiting the studio. If the characters and story fail to engage in the final third you still might have been lured into a pretty profound experience. Notably when Sutherland and a cosmopolitan and dainty Debrnicki chew the fat.