“The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.”
This is more or less the central thesis of BLOODY ORANGES, the new French end-times black comedy/satirical thriller from director Jean-Christophe Meurisse. It’s a quote from Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, popping up on the screen at the halfway mark when things go from absurd to absurdly violent in a kaleidoscopic slow-burn trip through the banal collapse of western civilization in the foul year of our lord 2020.
BLOODY ORANGES debuted at Cannes last year as a midnight screening, which will tell you all you need to know about the vibe of this thing. It’s definitely a less-you-know-going-in-the-better type deal, if only for the cumulative effect of the interwoven character segments as they unfold, each progressively more deranged, in some way or another, than the last. The film opens on a kitschy community dance contest, where a retired couple (Olivier Saladin, Lorella Cravotin) is desperate to win the grand prize to pay off their mounting debts. Their son, a young social-climbing lawyer (Alexandre Steiger), always ready with a barrage of pseudo-intellectual, chauvinistic vitriol, works for a sleazy political operator (Denis Podalydès) who’s consulting France’s Finance Secretary (Christophe Paou) out of a potential tax evasion scandal. Meanwhile, a teenage girl (Lilith Grasmug) out to lose her virginity finds her night upended by a violent psychopath.
All of these stories and perspectives seem to play out separately at first, then start to connect through a snowballing series of darkly comic vignettes — each its own nasty, almost Buñuelian dissection of capitalism, liberalism, nationalism, celebrity, political corruption, financial collapse, the crumbling welfare state, and just about everything else that makes the modern world a total fuckin madhouse. The film’s opening scene — where the panel of judges at the dance contest debate the pros and cons of advancing a disabled competitor, each signaling their own social virtue until the tenor of the conversation breaks into inexplicable hysterics — indicates immediately that this is gonna be another movie where the dialogue materializes from the ether of online discourse.
Now, I know most of us are getting sick of that trend, but BLOODY ORANGES manages to find its own way through on the strength of its tight, rapid-fire pacing and great performances from the whole ensemble. My favorite is Denis Podalydès as “Le ténor du Barreau,” representing the legal-leech class who get their bag by promising immaculate cover-ups and political immunity to unsuspecting politicians without ever delivering much of anything. There’s a great bit of dialogue in which he gives his protege some especially cynical career advice, seemingly ripped from the playbook of today’s faux-boundary pushing media provocateurs like the IDW crowd and their clamoring of YouTube pundit imitators: “You must never be politically correct. Always be borderline indecent. Not completely indecent. Flirt with indecency. Be scandalous. Be controversial, be a topic of discussion. Then, you’ll be a subject of thought.”
The uncharitable read of this movie — that it’s pseudo-intellectual edgelord snuff parading as thoughtful anti-capitalist social satire — is perhaps incriminatingly easy to spot (its gruesome second half is also sure to alienate a larger, justifiably more squeamish audience). But such a reading also avoids engaging with the material on its own, most immediate terms. There’s never really a wrong time to acknowledge how absurd and fractured everything is now, and how ridiculous every move we make in life will inevitably be. Maybe I’m just too infatuated with viscera and provocation in movies to see the forest through the trees here, but ultimately I think BLOODY ORANGES is precisely the type of black comedy we could use more of.
BLOODY ORANGES will be released by Dark Star Pictures on Video On Demand on April 19, 2022. The film is now playing in theaters.