Art Can Be Its Own Kind of Seductive Crime in ‘The Burnt Orange Heresy’ 

The Burnt Orange Heresy” is the kind of thriller we rarely get these days, where atmosphere and clues matter more than quick action scenes. It has a dark elegance and witty charm while celebrating, in an offbeat way, both the critic and art itself. For Claes Bang it is another successful display of his ability to move between genres. He fits the role perfectly of a character out of some wicked paperback read, caught in a web of his own making. 

Bang plays art critic James Figueras, who is so confident of himself that he enjoys fooling the audience into believing a painting he slapped together in 30 minutes is actually the work of some grand master. During one such talk he meets Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) who calls him out for being a faker. The two become lovers even as much of her past stays murky. Figueras is then called to a lavish estate by a wealthy collector, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) who has an odd but intriguing mission for the critic. Cassidy wants Figueras to get close to a reclusive painter, Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland). The artist has been staying at one of Cassidy’s estates, reportedly working on something no one has been able to see. It is up to Figueras’s to get a hold of the painting for Cassidy. What follows is a psychological game between Figuera, Hollis and Debney. 

Confined to the lush settings of Cassidy’s Lake Como estate, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” becomes a verbal cat and mouse game as Figuera attempts to convince Debney to reveal his hidden art. At the same time the relationship between Figuera and Hollis is based around the two keeping details about each other secret. Director Giuseppe Capotondi allows scenes to play out between characters with conversations that can turn into verbal duels. Claes Bang began discussing the film with Entertainment Voice with, “I loved it from the beginning. What sort of really drew me to it was that very weird, interesting relationship between the James and Berenice characters. I thought, ‘fuck, what are they doing to each other?’ That was very appealing and something I wanted to jump in and do. It was actually quite easy in that sense. I didn’t know Elizabeth Debicki. I’d seen her in a couple of things, like ‘The Great Gatsby,’ but I had never met her. We met at one point and started doing it.”

Bang has played a plethora of colorful roles in action films like “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” to arthouse hits like “The Square” to shows like Netflix’s “Dracula.” Yet in approaching the role of a critic, his technique remains the same. “The role is never the work that role does, it’s the person isn’t it? Here it wasn’t so much that he was an art critic, the thing that I connected with is that he’s so ambitious. I can totally relate to that, I am too very ambitious. Here it just goes too far. I hope I stop before it goes there. I was looking for the person inside there more than the idea of an ‘art critic.’ Of course a lot of the research I did for ‘The Square’ came in handy. I interviewed a few museum directors in Scandinavia to learn about what you do in a museum all day, all that shit. What’s important is tapping into human behavior.”

When discussing this film it is inevitable to wonder what it was like to work with Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones icon has dabbled in film numerous times over the decades and here fits perfectly into the role of art connoisseur turned item hunter. “It was just lovely. Obviously when you know, oh my god an icon is coming on set today, you’re feeling quite nervous. But it goes away the second you meet him. He’s just sweet and lovely. I remember specifically. I was on the phone speaking to an agent and I had been talking with Giuseppe about the scene we were doing the next day with Jagger. I put the phone down, I turned around and Jagger was right there and I go, Hey! Listen, we need to talk about that scene tomorrow!’ He’s just really friendly and humble. He was all about just doing the best he could, to hold his end. That’s what we do as actors, isn’t it?  He’s a real team player. He would come on set and not act like this big icon or anything. It was all about just getting it right.”

While “The Burnt Orange Heresy” moves with a smooth tone, shooting was a driven affair. “It was stressful because we shot it in 25 shooting days which is not a lot. I think it was only doable because there are quite long scenes. If you have 200 scenes and you have to change the camera and the lighting all the time it would be harder. But here the scenes are quite long so you can get more done every day. I remember the shoot as very compact.” 

Bang now leaves it to audiences to discover the film and draw their own conclusions and experiences from it. “We have done our bit, it’s not up to me to tell people what to take from it. There is stuff in here that I think is interesting. But I think you’ve waived the right of telling the story and then telling people how to perceive it. If you make a painting or work of art you have to live with the fact that people will go in and see it and do with it what they want.”

The Burnt Orange Heresy” opens March 6 in select theaters.