Career options are in constant flux. Ambitious students who might once have embarked upon an arduous training in neurosurgery can now stream the sound of panpipes, invest in a clutch of jade eggs, and swiftly prosper as wellness consultants. No profession has risen quite so fast, however, as that of intimacy coördinator. It’s a hell of a job. You hang around on movie sets, telling people in various states of undress what they can do to one another, what they mustn’t even think of when they’re doing it, what they definitely can’thg0088 do, and, once they’ve not done it, how to treat the nasty case of tennis elbow that they developed along the way.
hg0088Yet the hardiest intimacy coördinator—armed with a tape measure, a protractor, a magnifying glass, and a copy of Peter Singer’s “”—would struggle, I suspect, with “The Burnt Orange Heresy” and “The Whistlers.” These two new films have a surprising amount in common. In each case, near the start, a man and a woman have sex. The activity itself is vanilla but vigorous, like a frothing milkshake. But what of the motivations?
In “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” the spent participants, who only just met, lounge around, in ecstasy’s wake, and riff about what comes next. “We’ll move to the States. Connecticut, probably. Buy a house, porch, with a swing and a brook,” one says. “Babbling,” the other adds. You can sense that the riffing turns them on, and that they’re almost certainly lying about what brought them to this encounter. As for “The Whistlers,” the couple isn’t a couple. He’s a cop and she’s a criminal, but they’re in league, and she pretends to be a sex worker, summoned to his apartment, because they’re all too aware of being watched on CCTV by those who wish them ill. In short, what appears to be consensual intimacy, in both movies, is an act of deliberate carnal deceit. Coördinate that.
hg0088“The Burnt Orange Heresy,” directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, stars Claes Bang (I’m saying nothing) as an art critic named James Figueras. Though handsomely clean-cut, he’s ragged around the edges in ways that are hard to define; you’d willingly lend him money, but you wouldn’t expect to get it back. We first meet him in Milan, where he’s lecturing to a group of culture buffs—spinning them a yarn about a nonexistent painter and then smoothly reeling them in. They are joined by a latecomer, the elegant Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), of no fixed abode. She and Figueras, wasting no time, become firm friends, as detailed above, and he asks her along on his next jaunt: an invitation from a wealthy art collector, Joseph Cassidy, to his villa on Lake Como. Tough gig.
Cassidy is played by none other than Mick Jagger, who has graced our feature films all too rarely since he played the reclusive rock star of “Performancehg0088” (1970), delivering “Memo from Turner” in a crowing drawl, among half-naked gangsters, with Ry Cooder on slide guitar. If Jagger’s character hadn’t been shot at the end of that movie, you could imagine him growing up into the comically rich Maecenas of “The Burnt Orange Heresy”—though not, as yet, growing old. Cassidy is an extraordinary figure: wicked, wrinkled, flute-thin, flawlessly dressed, with a head too big for his frame and a smile too big for his head. The smile suggests a perpetual amusement, as if he were enjoying a joke that is far too private to share.
hg0088Identifying Figueras as a fellow-knave, Cassidy gives him a delicate sin to commit. The target is Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), the Salinger of painters—an object of both reverence and rumor, long vanished from the public eye. In fact, he’s dwelling quietly in the grounds of the villa, and Figueras’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to steal a Debney, having inveigled himself into the artist’s confidence. What (or, indeed, whether) he has been creating of late is not the point. Cassidy, like all patrons, craves to possess.
“The Burnt Orange Heresy” began as a 1971 novel by Charles Willeford: cavalryman, tank commander, poet, boxer, crime writer, and college professor. No bio-pic could contain so thronged a life. “,” published in 1984, four years before his death, was adapted into a sharp-witted thriller, with Alec Baldwinhg0088 and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and I was praying for a repeat with “The Burnt Orange Heresy.” Everything’s in place, and there’s not a weak link in the cast, with Debicki—lofty, playful, and unreadable—in especially beguiling form. The idea that art, like love, is something that you can make or fake, and that surprisingly few people can tell the difference, will always be ripe for exploration. And yet the movie stumbles. The book was set in Florida, and the prettifying switch to Italy adds languor but subtracts fever; even when the plot speeds up, in the final third, the atmosphere feels more hasty than intense, and the alluring promise of the early scenes, when you couldn’t tell if the hero was fooling the heroine, or vice versa, melts away. They should have stayed in bed.
It’s been a while since whistling had a major role in a movie. Admirers of Hitchcock’s “The 39 Stepshg0088” (1935) will remember the earworm stuck in Robert Donat’s brain—the musical phrase that he couldn’t help whistling, and that returned to him, laden with fresh meaning, at the finale. Then there’s the emotional pick-me-up of “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” as sung by Deborah Kerr (or, rather, by Marni Nixon, the queen of dubbing), in “The King and I” (1956). Now we have Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers,” the plot of which demands that the characters put their lips together and blow.
Much of the tale is set in La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. La Gomera is the ancient home of El Silbo, the nonverbal idiom by which its inhabitants have traditionally made contact across the island’s gullies and ravines. The component sounds of Spanish words, cut down to two vowels and four consonants, are conveyed by whistling, the trick being to curl your fingers against your mouth with one finger outstretched, as if your hand were a gun. That is how Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a Romanian visitor to La Gomera, is taught the rudiments of Silbo by an expert, who explains, “If the police hear the language, they will think the birds are singing.” Pastoral noir! The fact that Cristi ishg0088 the police only proves what a heap of trouble he’s in. Still, he’s an ideal student of Silbo, being not just a quick learner but a taciturn sort, more likely to clam up than to spill. The less talking you do, in his line of work, the better.
hg0088But what is that line? There’s no risk of my revealing what happens in Porumboiu’s film, because I remain, as I began, in the dark. All I can tell you is that Cristi’s a bent cop, based in Bucharest, and trying to operate on both sides of the fence. He has a scary superior, Magda (Rodica Lazar), who is battling corruption, although she, too, is prepared to flex the rules. That may be why her office is bugged. The official villains include a money-laundering gangster, Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), and his girlfriend, Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), the woman who sleeps with Cristi in the interests of untruth. He warms to her, and, at one point, they communicate from afar in Silbo, as though it were a natural language of love. If Cristi were a Rita Hayworth fan, he would recall one of the first principles of cinema: Never, ever fall for anyone named Gilda.