CAPSULE: BLOODY ORANGES (2021)

Oranges Sanguines

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DIRECTED BY: Jean-Christophe Meurisse

FEATURING: Alexandre Steiger, Christophe Paou, Lillith Grasmug, Olivier Saladin, Fred Blin

PLOT: An elderly French couple enters a dance contest hoping to ease their debts, while a scandal-ridden politician schemes to rehabilitate his image, and a 16-year old girl hopes to lose her virginity.

Still from Bloody Oranges (2021)

COMMENTS: If you like movies about French pension reform with a side of torture porn, you’ll dig Bloody Oranges. There are lots of discussions of the French pension system (which, we learn, constitutes 13.5% of the annual budget) and the younger generation’s resentment towards funding it. Pension complaints are pillow talk, getting rid of pension fraud among the elderly is the centerpiece of a fiscal cabinet meeting, and pension reform is the subjet de tous les jours on ambient TV news broadcasts. Olivier and Laurence are deep in debt and their combined monthly checks can’t cover their expenses, so they’re hoping to win a rock n’ roll dance contest that would net them an SUV which they could resell and possibly cut their debts in half.

But perhaps the modern French have deeper problems than the pension system. In almost the dead middle of the film we get an epigram from Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci that ends with the line: “Now is the time of monsters.” And this is when the movie, which had been an ensemble comedy dry as a glass of Merlot, suddenly takes a turn for the bloody. The change in tone is jarring and won’t work for many, but you do have to say one thing: le patriarcat gets (by which I mean loses) theirs at the end.

Writer/director Jean-Christophe Meurisse has fashioned a well-written, if not necessarily pleasant or tonally coherent, third feature. Although the situations get a bit bizarre, the characters are generally believable. Much of the dialogue is delivered through complicated discussions full of counterpoint: the dance jury argues spiritedly about the role of diversity in the selection process, a family birthday party is full of subtle recriminations and resentments. Individual scenes are well-crafted: a lover takes little post-coital digs at her partner’s slight build, microagressive but delivered with such sweetness that taking offense would appear as a gauche overreaction; in another amusing incident, a gynecologist gives advice to a virgin (I like to believe all French gynecologists flippantly explain hand job techniques to their inexperienced teenage patients).

But the movie’s central shock scene, while perhaps cathartic, reveals none of the careful control or wit Meurisse displays throughout the rest of the movie. It makes narrative sense, sure, but its brutal over-explicitness makes it a mood-killer. Instead of sweet orange flesh, with are left with bitter pith.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film with bizarre events strung up together with not real interest and barely any joy at all is what is presented here and unless one wants to watch something that is just blandly negative, this is not a film many will like watching.”–Emillee Black, Cinema Crazed (festival screening)

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