Giuseppe Capotondi • Director of The Burnt Orange Heresy
“I wanted to give my film a Hitchcockian flair”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2019: We talked to Giuseppe Capotondi, the director of this year’s closing film, The Burnt Orange Heresy, starring Elizabeth Debicki, Claes Bang and… Mick Jagger
Based on the eponymous novel by Charles Willeford, The Burnt Orange Heresy [+see also:
interview: Giuseppe Capotondi
film profile], which brought the Venice Film Festival to a close this year, sees a struggling art critic (Claes Bang) offered the chance of a lifetime by a wealthy collector (Mick Jagger), who is currently hosting Jerome Debney, one of the most elusive artists in the world. But there is a price to pay, and it will be steep, also for the ones he takes along for the ride. We talked to the movie’s director, Giuseppe Capotondi.
Cineuropa: Willeford’s 1971 novel was set in Palm Beach, yet you decided to move the story to Italy. Why?
Giuseppe Capotondi: At first, I hadn’t even read the book – I read the script. It was quite different, yes, but I thought it might be a good idea to set it in Italy because, obviously, I know the place. It wasn’t even about convenience, but I always wanted to shoot on Lake Como, and I think it gave it more of this Hitchcockian flair. That’s what I wanted to achieve, with the characters styled in this old-fashioned movie-star way. Elizabeth Debicki was supposed to look a bit like Grace Kelly and Claes like Cary Grant. I thought this kind of environment would help. And George Clooney owns a villa next to the place where we shot! I thought that [Debicki’s character] Berenice should be someone with a strong personality. In the book, she is more of a victim. And I have obviously seen The Square [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile], which Claes was just fantastic in. We talked on Skype, and I asked if he really wanted to play another art-world character [laughs].
And how on Earth did Mick Jagger end up in there as well?
It’s a nice cameo, and we were looking for someone with, again, a strong personality. We knew from our common friends that Mick was looking for maybe his last film. I was a bit afraid, honestly, to work with the biggest rock star in the world. I wasn’t afraid of his skills; I was afraid of the fame. But then he came on set and was just like everyone else: he was an actor. He had some time to spare, even though he has this other job that he insists on carrying on. He plays the Devil in this Faustian tale, basically. A Faustian tale in the form of a film noir.
It’s always fun to watch films about these pesky critics, at least from our perspective. What is your take on people who analyse your work?
That’s a tricky question – how could I answer it with all these critics around?! But of course, when you make a movie or a painting, you always fear what is going to happen to this child of yours. You push it out into the world for everybody to criticise. This film is about truth, mostly. And lies. And about what happens when we fabricate lies and turn them into our truth. It’s something we see every day, mostly in politics. In this sense, we weren’t trying to make a satire about the art world; it’s mostly about how far we are willing to go to gain success or be famous. Yeah, I would say it’s mostly about ambition.
It’s very telling that with all this lying in the film, when Berenice tells the truth, nobody believes her anyway.
It’s the “Cassandra syndrome” – you tell the truth, but no one believes you. She is the only honest one in the story. She only has one mask, and when she takes it off… We made her mysterious and shady to fit the genre, but in the end, you realise why she was doing that. She was just playing a part – a part she couldn’t sustain. She is out there, in the deep waters with all the sharks. Picasso once said that all artists are liars. When you paint, I am guessing, you give meaning to what you do, which is never going to be the same as what people see. Berenice seems to think that real art should be above all this mess; it should be elevated, somehow. But it’s not – not in this film.
Are you interested in the art world at all?
I collect photographs, but I am also fascinated by what art actually means today and how it has changed, especially when it comes to money. You know, I had only done two films before this one. I did maybe 200 music videos, but then the market changed. Also, it’s supposed to be done by the young, for the young, and I wasn’t young any more. You always want to do something bigger and better, but I would be perfectly happy doing this for the rest of my life – small films with nice people. I love “elevated horror” – that’s mostly what I watch, and Claes is playing Dracula now [in an upcoming miniseries], the lucky bastard. That must be fun. But I was never flashy, that was never my style, and this time, I tried to make something elegant and mysterious. We made all the art that appears in the movie, except for some that’s hanging in the villa. The owners allowed us to use it, probably knowing that Mick Jagger was going to sit in front of it.
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