The Burnt Orange Heresy

“Soapy” is usually a word with a negative connotation, but The Burnt Orange Heresy seems to challenge that. The film is a to-do list of soapy thematic tropes, such as using sex, deception, and even murder to drive its story, yet director Giuseppe Capotondi, screenwriter Scott B. Smith, and a great cast get away with it because the central drama is so interesting and the characters are so beguiling.

An art critic (Claes Bang), an enigmatic artist (Donald Sutherland), a provocative temptress (Elizabeth Debicki), and an intimidating art dealer (Mick Jagger) are key players in this mysterious yarn about a peculiar art heist. The critic, James, has been hired to profile reclusive painter, Jerome Debney, with the intent of taking off with a prized possession for smarmy dealer, Joseph. On a spontaneous spurt, James brings an alluring yet naïve art aficionado, Berenice, along on his mission.

Much like watching a lit wick work its way to a firework, the audience suspects the inevitable climax, but it’s still hard to predict and we’re still satisfied by the intrigue of waiting. This is also where the “soapiness” benefits the film – subtlety juicing up the moody rising action and complimenting the anticipation instead of milking over-the-top emotions. Only in the final act does the film start welcoming in campy factors, with a revealing conclusion that’s clever but not quite picture-perfect.

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