A satire of interconnected vignettes — sketches — tied together in a loopy, bloody-minded State of France farce of a story, “Bloody Oranges” won’t be to most tastes.
Discerning its meaning and what the filmmaker and his uninhibited, Comedie Francaise-spangled cast had it mind for their “targets” isn’t always obvious.
But if you’re down for a dark comedy with gynecology, sex, kidnapping and rape, humiliations, suicide, French politics and subtitles, do read on.
There are four basic interconnected stories here commenting, in a broad sense, on French tradition, liberties and comforts at odds with conservative austerity, “advertised” values and hypocrisy.
A provincial rock dance contest is judged by a quarrelsome sextet of judges, trying to be inclusive, “diverse” and politically correct, and failing miserably. I mean, do you give extra credit to the “disabled” dancer, who “walks with a limp?” Is she actually “disabled?” Can they even agree on that?
No. One judge’s screeching condemnation assures them that “no,” they cannot. They are “still that backward in 2020.”
The favored couple, cutely named Laurence (Lorella Cravotta) and Olivier (Olivier Saladin) are old school “Rock Around the Clock” dancers, retirees. It turns out they’re in financial trouble — outspending their pensions — and really do need to win the contest’s top prize to have anything to pass on to their children.
The lawyer Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger) has to keep his naked paramour from messing up his legal robes in a bit of post-coital teasing. “Nooner” or not, he’s determined to come off as respectable.
Because Alexandre would love to impress the finance minister Stephane (Christophe Paou) and his “team.” Stephane and his handlers are batting away press questions about “offshore money” and the nature of his marriage, while bandying ideas like ending school lunch programs for the children of the unemployed as they try to decide what’s “unpopular” enough to tax.
“What if we tax abortions (in French with English subtitles)?”
Young Louise (Lilith Grasmug) is getting a checkup from her amusingly blunt gynecologist (Blanche Gardin) who is more than happy to answer the 16 year-old’s queries about sex — “Very disappointing,” the first time — birth control and her genitalia.
The good doctor is helpful enough to whip out a mirror for Louise as she sits in the stirrups.
“Isn’t it pretty?“
Louise is destined to lose her virginity at a teen beer bust. Stephane the Finance Minister wants to finish a day of puffy TV interviewer questions, posed photos and image management with his wife with what sounds like a Cawthorne/Lady G orgy. But car trouble puts him in the company of a nut (Fred Blin) who keeps a pet pig he feeds via chopsticks. Alexandre will join his family for his mother Laurence’s birthday and not notice credit card problems that get in the way of Father Olivier picking up the check.
And that dance-off that’s on the horizon’s stakes grow even higher.
Director and co-writer Jean-Christophe Meurisse “Apnée”) is probably something of an acquired taste, even in France. His broad swipes at provincialism, suggesting that the French will bring politics into and argue about just everything, the phony moralizing of the allegedly “conservative” and the state of justice in a country roiled by many of the divisions common throughout “The West” don’t always land.
“Bloody Oranges” begins by talking us to death in the manner of any given French drama, melodrama or comedy, only to get past the preliminaries and get down to the dirty, bloody business of the third act.
One character — a hateful, sexist, foul-mouthed cabbie — has a couple of scenes seemingly to illustrate the point that the working classes can be boorish louts. Others have a single scene, and the ever-bickering dance judges may blurt out political and politically-incorrect political correctness, but none of them truly register as characters or as comic conceits.
The big shots hoisted by their own petard messaging feels very Comedie Francaise, as does the absurdist kinky shtick of that silk robe/Angora sweater wearing pig lover (sans banjo). The actor who plays that character is in the legendary French acting ensemble.
Abrupt turns towards revenge for slights and assaults real or simply invented are the film’s only dramatic saving graces, as little in the first two acts would be worth more than a black-out scene at an improv show.
And the dark stuff is seriously dark, as in hard to watch and straight up vengeance fantasy visceral.
Taken as a whole, the film is the quintessence of “mixed bag,” with some sketch situations, characters and performances commanding our attention, and others just sort of drifting by, “connecting” the disparate stories but accomplishing little else.
Let’s just say it edits down into a gonzo, seriously transgressive 90 second trailer that doesn’t represent the movie, not all of its “Bloody Oranges” being equally bloody, offensive or pointed.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex, nudity, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Alexandre Steiger, Christophe Paou, Lilith Grasmug, Fred Blin, Lorella Cravotta, Olivier Saladin and Blanche Gardin.
Credits: Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse, scripted by Yohann Gloaguen, Amélie Philippe and Jean-Christophe Meurisse. A Dark Star release.
Running time: 1:45