Director Jean-Christophe Meurisse’s (Apnée) Bloody Oranges (Oranges sanguines) mixes truth with fiction to create a concoction that’s as eager to amuse as it is to profoundly unsettle. Its premise is of three interwoven stories involving a dance competition, a finance secretary suspected of theft, and a young girl coming into her sexual power. With the start of each new storyline, the question of their convergence looms; their eventual connection slamming together with devastating contradictions. It’s a film which explores, without picking sides, the dual nature of human kind and the lengths we’ll go to convince ourselves that we’re all not the same skeleton wrapped in a meat suit traveling on a giant rock hurtling millions of miles per hour through endless space. If we took a moment to consider this possibility, perhaps we’d all end up with fewer bruises on our skin.
Because of the nature of Bloody Oranges the following review will not aspire to the usual spoiler-free approach as there are some who might feel blind-sided if not given proper notice.
Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, body mutilation, and cannibalism.
Bloody Oranges is a film split in twain: the first half being a fairly light scruples dramedy involving rules and society, while the second half is an absolute horror show painted with the tears of tragedy. The second half does come with a bit of a warning as night falls and a quote from Antonio Gramsci is scrawled across the screen: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.” For context, Gramsci is an Italian philosopher who developed the concept of “cultural hegemony,” the belief of a diverse ruling class which manipulates their constituents to maintain the status quo. (This is a simple explanation. For a deeper explanation, head to this article.) This split in tone is an absolute shock to the system and is not intended for those faint of heart. To a degree, it’s not worse than what audiences have seen in an episode of Game of Thrones, but that doesn’t make it any easier and should be avoided by those with softer constitutions.
This is not to suggest that Bloody Oranges is a slaughterhouse. The violence within the second half is mostly previewed in the first, even if aspects of it may be seen as entirely unnecessary. In the first half, Bloody Oranges is consumed with how things are seen and the truth of them. The opening moments of the film involve a group of people arguing about music genres and whether or not someone possesses a disability. We’re introduced to this small collective arguing by voice before we even meet them and we, the audience, are forced to deduce what they mean via context clues. That it turns out they are judges for a dance competition that can’t help bringing in issues of classism and ableism (as well as the usual tropes re: people with disabilities as props for hope) projects just how seriously this film is to be taken, while also hinting at just how people with a tiny bit of power begin to take advantage of it. The rest of the film is handled in a similar manner, where the audience is rarely given more than it needs to in order to understand the specific narrative conflict facing the characters. The lack of exposition is refreshing, enabling the script by co-writers Yohann Gloaguen, Amélie Philippe, and Meurisse to get right to the point in just about every prong. Through the dance competition, we are introduced to wife-husband team Laurence (Lorella Cravotta) and Oliver (Olivier Saladin) who are too proud to tell their children that they’re deep in debt. The script sets up every opportunity for the truth, but in not taking it, the script allows the film to explore parental pride and unconditional love. With Christophe Paou’s Finance Secretary Stéphane Lemarchand, the script jumps right to his potential scandal, laying out his innocence, and the political path he must take to clear his name. Via this character, there’s an opportunity to see how the government, in this case France, attempts to balance the books by screwing everyone other than the middle class, as though this is partisan and not cruel all on its own. Then there is Lilith Grasmug’s Louise, whose story doesn’t at all seem connected until the end and its significance is hard to process without time to consider. Her story is one of sexual empowerment that’s at once original (she takes charge in her first sexual encounter rather than following the usual trope of passivity) and filled with tropes (assaulted on the same night as she loses her virginity). Where the script doesn’t traipse into pitfalls is (a) in the first half, it sets up Louise as the owner of her sexual power, riding the subject of her infatuation to bliss while the boy beneath her quivers at her forcefulness and (b) it’s not her assault that’s given the focus, it’s her revenge. It’s not until the end of the film that the audience realizes that even the first half, fun and light as it is, is tinged in darkness. This isn’t to suggest that any of what we observe in the second half is either deserved or made less terrible by the foreshadowing, but it does make it easier to see that amid the comedy lies a dark of foreboding.
Put plainly, the violence within Bloody Oranges left me a tad shattered afterward. Granted I’d already had a waxing/waning headache and a stressful evening filled with upsets, but the way in which Meurisse goes about introducing the maniac played by Fred Blin all the way up to his final scene goes from startling to traumatic rapidly. It’s not that Blin’s character hadn’t earned what’s inflicted upon him by Louise, especially since she was not his first victim of the night, it’s that the presentation of his comeuppance eschews periphery inference for unrepentant, unhesitant presentation. Though deserved, it’s a level of cruelty that left me raw and disgusted, the stress of which sent me spiraling so that my torturous headache blossomed into a migraine where I oscillated between horrific pain in my head and a terrible queasiness in my stomach any time my mind drifted to the film. That Meurisse took the idea from a real story of an American woman in 2015 doesn’t make the presentation of the scene any more palatable; rather, it gets to the truth of Bloody Oranges, that we’re all just subject to one another and too few wield that responsibility with any kind of grace.
Like any piece of art, the reaction to any kind of film is subjective. In finishing Bloody Oranges, I couldn’t help but think of 2020’s Possessor which had a great deal more violence (some far more graphic), yet didn’t elicit such a guttural reaction from me as this did. Though Meurisse makes a point to literally wink at the camera in the end, implying that we’ve just partaken in some kind of gallows joke, the truth of his film is so disquieting that it’s hard to feel any kind of sense of joy upon its completion. Even as Meurisse offers one last comeuppance before credits roll, the script has done such a great job of getting under your skin that there is no comedy, only darkness. We’re all just bloody oranges, after all, soft and fleshy on the outside, running red on the inside. We should not take comfort in the violence done unto the deserving any more than we should the innocent. Perhaps that’s why I cannot stop replaying sequences in my mind like intrusive thoughts or shutter the lingering terror, no matter how much we’d like to focus on the goodness of the world, too much is out of our hands and in those of the selfish and the violent that the only way to find our heroes is to react in kind. What a dark and terrible conclusion to make.
Screening during the 2021 Nightstream Festival.
Head to the official Bloody Oranges Eventive page to watch the film during the festival.
For more information, head to Best Friend Forever’s official Bloody Oranges website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.