Director Jean-Christophe Meurisse’s acidic take on France begins low-key with an extended sequence where the judges of a dance competition cannot help but be at loggerheads regarding their opinions. “There should be a para-rock concert,” someone adds in cue to a differently-abled person auditioning. It steadily leads to a big face-off that ends in a rush of agitated tears. This escalation is enough to prepare you for the kind of looming sense of provocation Meurisee promises in Bloody Oranges (Oranges sanguines). And boy, does it go places!

Co-written with Amélie Philippe and Yohann Gloaguen, Bloody Oranges takes the contest itself as a tool to explore the many dynamics that assemble in its motley bunch. There’s an older couple (Lorella Cravotta and Olivier Saladin) who instantly catches the eye. Winning the dance competition for them is important since it will help them get rid of their financial crises. Then there is the sly finance minister (Christophe Paou) who anticipating huge economic setbacks tries to safeguard his potential revenues overseas. There’s also the teenager (Lilith Grasmug) who is visiting her OB-GYN (Blanche Gardin) for questions on sex even as she awaits to lose her virginity.

Finally, there’s the relentless lawyer (Alexandre Steiger) who will not sidestep on his treatment of prisoners. These narratives cut back and forth, creating a tapestry of images and endlessly surprising situations. Nothing can prepare you for the number of jaw-dropping moments Bloody Oranges wallops. At several points, the importance of language and communication is peppered in, with the use of historical (and surreal) elements to navigate the common thread of civilization and savagery at once.

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Midway, even a Gramsci quote appears as the screen goes black: “The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” Now, this quote, from 1937, holds enough water to make Bloody Oranges survive. If you cannot tell why these stories are placed so, that’s very much the intention- as one never knows what’s happening next. A constant sense of doom pervades as the multiple plots operate, even as the second half turns any necessary linkages on its own head.

Bloody Orange (1)

The satire and the comedy give way to darker twists – taking a total shift of gear in terms of genre. At one point there’s an angry taxi driver urinating as a mode of revenge and in another, there is genital mutilation. There’s no categorization of Bloody Oranges- a title that is not something that overtly attributes to the narrative. Meurisse has commented how he uses the title of the film as a metaphor for the utter chaos that fills the screen – “On the outside, we’re super sweet, we look attractive. But inside us, there’s this bloody juice waiting to explode.”

Riotously funny at places, Bloody Oranges packs in everything at once- which works in stretches but flounders in more ways than one. Dinner table conversations stretch on forever, rambling from world issues and then aiming at tearing off personal issues. Often it results in becoming clueless where the action is headed, even when the heavy-handed showdowns are intended to be funny. Bloody Oranges survives through the hullabaloo with a strange sense of disconnect, its satire not biting enough, mellowed down by its constant restlessness. Meurisse’s characters use each other as defenses to make their own point- beyond that there is no trace of them as another side of themselves. You will hate them but you cannot ignore them in their self-consciousness.

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Edited with immense control by Flora Volpelière, Bloody Oranges ultimately succumbs in its own tricks. The performances feel untethered, given their mode of expression at most times is unscrupulous in some way or the other. The rock dance competition from where Bloody Oranges takes off, does not level out convincingly at that chaotic, unnerving climax.

As everything goes south and madness prevails then it somehow registers how Bloody Oranges unpacks its reflection on the current state of the country. It is fundamentally an examination of hypocrisies, of some level or other. The spectrum holds power, politics, and media- however, the execution comes dangerously close to a case of torture porn. Of course, it wickedly entices and makes a point, but when can it make up for the lack of nuance instead?

Bloody Oranges is now in theatres in the US and will release on VOD on April 19th



Bloody Oranges Links – IMDb
Bloody Oranges Cast – Alexandre Steiger. Christophe Paou, Lilith Grasmug, Olivier Saladin, Denis Podalydès

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