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BLOODY ORANGES (aka ORANGES SANGUINES, 2021)
Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse.
Written by Jean-Christophe Meurisse, Amélie Philippe, Yohann Gloaguen.
Starring Alexandre Steiger, Christophe Paou, Lilith Grasmug, Olivier Saladin, Lorella Cravotta, Fred Blin,
Denis Podalydès, Blanche Gardin, Céline Fuhrer, Florence Janas, Anthony Paliotti, Fred Tousch,
Guilaine Londez, Pascal Sangla, Arnaud Aymard, Vincent Dedienne
Like many reviewers, sometimes I get requests to check out films. But unlike a lot of reviewers, I focus mainly on horror films and a lot of PR folks don’t know that. So I’ll get these emails asking me to review scintillating dramas or poignant documentaries or even rowdy comedies and I feel like writing them back with a snarky remark because, obviously these folks don’t follow my reviews. I just got on their email list somehow. But of course, I don’t do that. I write back, kindly explaining that I focus predominantly on horror and sometimes I get a response from the PR folks apologizing for the miscommunication. Then there are other times where the PR rep writes me back and says, oh don’t worry. This may look like a drama or a comedy or whatever, but it is dark. But dark is a relative concept. Sometimes these people don’t know the depths of some of the horrors I’ve seen. So still I tread lightly into the film, hoping there’s some kind of horrific aspect to it enough for me to justify covering it and not the hundred and one other horror films released out there screaming for attention.
But sometimes. Sometimes a film comes along that definitely qualifies as horror, but also crosses genres in such a all-encompassing way that I want to kick myself for almost overlooking it. That’s the type of film BLOODY ORANGES is.
BLOODY ORANGES is a pitch black French drama-comedy-horror film that follows the life of a handful of seemingly banal and unrelated people. A Secretary of Finance in the French government attempts to cover up a money laundering scam. An elderly couple try to win a dance contest in order to pay of an ever-increasing debt. A young girl contemplates losing her virginity at an upcoming party. A lawyer is obsessed with how he appears and where he sits in terms of social status. All of these seemingly normal people just living their lives are somewhat absorbed with their own plights and ignorant to the fact that their lives are about to interconnect in strange, disturbing, and downright harrowing ways.
The film opens with a scene heavy on dialog where a group of people talk quickly with and over one another about a dance contest. It’s the kind of fast talk bickering that you’d see in an Aaron Sorkin script or a CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM episode where the temperament of the conversation increases in pressure to the boiling point. As with those types of conversational style stories, the comedy comes from how increasingly bombastic everyone becomes as an argument persists and this is exactly the type of comedy that makes up the heart of BLOODY ORANGES. It’s through these exchanges that some of the best bits of comedy in this film. For quite a bit of this one, I was smiling as the narrative flitted from one scene to the next. Yet I still wondered why the hell was I, a horror reviewer, watching this movie.
And then the 50-minute mark came and holy poopin’ crap does this thing veer into the darkness quickly. I’d rather save the surprises for those brave enough to give BLOOD ORANGES a chance, but while the first half attempts to show how our disagreements, transgressions, hopes, and dreams can come up lacking or highlight what is actually charming about a person, the latter half highlights how easily all of what we think is normal can be shattered on one bad day. The result is heart breaking, shocking, daring, and the stuff that Hollywood movies don’t have the guts to show anymore. Yes, there’s a definite Tarantino edge to BLOODY ORANGES, but the story is less involved in paying homage to z-movie tropes and more interested in highlighting the victories and defeats we all experience in life through one very perverted lens.
What makes BLOODY ORANGES work is that for almost the first full hour, we get to know the inner turmoil of our protagonists. That’s what makes the last 40 minutes so soul-shredding. Christophe Paou plays the perfect polished politician with many secrets, but a lot of clout and friends who will help keep these secrets covered. He displays a charm you only see in political theater and is perfectly cast in the role. The plight of the elderly couple is devastating, especially when you see how much they enjoy dancing together. But the true standout is Lilith Grasmug who plays the starry-eyed Louise, who is eager to grow up, but is not prepared at all at what horrors life has to offer. It’s the beauty of these fully realized characters that hit me so hard when the bad stuff starts happening. If you come away from this film not feeling endeared to the characters, then shocked, and then moved to the point where your heart feels like it was squeezed in a vice, then you’d better check yourself for a pulse.
As touching the comedy and dramatic moments are, have no worry that this films gets extremely disturbing in its latter half. Filmmaker Jean-Christophe Meurisse is able to capture the humanity through rapid fire conversation and then challenges that humanity to its core by intertwining the plights of this cast like ivy through a fence. He seamlessly cuts from one story to the next and back again and somehow makes the entire film feel like a rich experience with moments that’ll sear itself into your soul and refuse to leave your mind. BLOODY ORANGES is a celebration of absurdist humor, the unpredictability of plans, the nihilistic inevitability of life, and still manages to douse the credits with a dash of hope and righteous violence. I highly recommend you check this French gem out yourself. It won’t be for the blockbuster crowd, but if you don’t mind the unconventional, the controversial, the unsettling, and the unique, this is a film for you. I’m so glad I took a chance with BLOODY ORANGES and I hope you do too.