This self-conscious comedy from French director Jean-Christophe Meurisse is a curiosity. Bloody Oranges switches aspect ratios, utilises stripped-down sets and obvious backdrops and leaps between several storylines to keep the audience at a distance, preventing them from relating to any of the onscreen personalities in this political satire horror.
A geriatric couple is attempting to win a dance contest to rescue themselves from crippling debt. The finance minister (Christophe Paou) hides shady overseas deals while inflicting harsh austerity on the nation. Meanwhile, a teenage girl prepares to lose her virginity to her boyfriend and gets a medical check while gossiping with her giggling friends. Finally, a ruthless lawyer (Alexandre Steiger) takes no prisoners on his way to the top. If the links between these characters aren’t immediately clear, they will be by the time the film’s wild second half switches televisual irony into something quite ambitious.
One cutting scene sees the minister and his wife pretending to play nice as a photographer captures the happy family for PR purposes. This then cuts splendidly to the elderly couple who are actually enjoying their dance training together. Repeatedly, Meurisse emphasises the power of language and groupthink to manipulate the otherwise savage populace. The knives are out for French liberalism too, in a humorous shot about the “eco-Nazism” of Trams.
The satire is present throughout, although it is often slow-moving in the first stretch. The film is brightly coloured which forces alienating images, like a haunting reference to Magritte’s The Lovers, then the Gramsci quote “now is the time of monsters” appears onscreen. It’s certainly not one for the faint-hearted, with a kimono-clad man feeding ramen to a pig from chopsticks and another character having a flat tyre in the middle of the night, as De Palma-style split screens appear and bodies meet violent ends.
For fans of genital mutilation and genital microwaving, what follows will be arresting: a descent into ironic torture porn that illustrates how power, politics and relationships are all driven by sexual desire. And it’s true, there can be a certain fun to watching sick, debased content at the movies, to see characters scheming, screwing or even urinating on each other. But in Bloody Oranges, the various threads here never cohere into a definitive statement about the human condition or modern France. Instead, some gestures to the sick cynicism of mankind must make up for the long lead-in. It’s an entertaining souffle, but would you want to eat it?
Bloody Oranges is released in select UK cinemas on 16th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Bloody Oranges here: