The Burnt Orange Heresy Argues About Critics

Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

There is certainly something to be said about the role of the critic when one sits down to watch The Burnt Orange Heresy.

“If it is just about telling the truth, anybody can do it,” James Figueras says about being a critic.  “My job is to separate the good ones from the bad ones.”

Critics are frauds.  Or so this is the argument that the film does its best to make.  At the same time, you can’t help but wonder.  Listen, there’s certainly some critics out there who do nothing but pan and pan and pan again.  And then you have the critics who do nothing but put out work that praises artists.  You can say something about the person who is nothing but cynical–no argument there.  But to the person who does nothing but glorify, how are artists expected to grow if they don’t know about flaws in their work?  There are certainly bound to be flaws because nobody is perfect.

Throughout the film, we slowly learn about the background of art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang).  It would be bad if we got it all at once so thankfully the film gives it to us slow and steady.  Honestly, knowing it all too soon just might prove to be devastating if you ask me.  Anyway, he’s based in Milan where he lectures tourists about art history.  One such tourist happens to be Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki).  She’s here to serve as a love interest to James and to join him that weekend on Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger)’s estate.  One could argue that Cassidy manages to give James some satisfaction.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, really, to meet the reclusive Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland).

Cassidy has his true reasons for getting James to his villa.  He wants a Debney.  The problem with this?  Well, Debney is somewhat of a reclusive character.  He’s no different than that of the late author J.D. Salinger.  At least that’s where he is when we first meet him during this late period in his life.  If there’s any artwork to show from his studio, well, he’s not planning to give it away anytime soon.  It places James in quite the predicament.  For one, talking to Debney means he’ll be the critic who tells his story.  But at what costs?

From here, it’s nothing but deceit and lies.  People like James are the true ill of the business no matter what they’re writing about.  I’m not even about to go into the film’s Hitchcockian third act, which you should really see for yourself.  Even if you find yourself surprised, the film’s thrilling score kind of gives it a way.

The Burnt Orange Heresy gives us something to ponder when it comes to the role of the critic while grounded in a scenic thriller.

DIRECTOR:  Giuseppe Capotondi
CAST:  Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland

Sony Pictures Classics opened The Burnt Orange Heresy in theaters on March 6, 2020. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.