Partway through alleged French comedy Bloody Oranges is an epigraph from Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (yes, I had to look him up). It reads, “The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” That was probably both penetrating and prescient in 1937 when he wrote it in his prison cell, but it just comes off as smug when tossed into this glib little attempt at satirizing The Way We Live Now, the kind of thing that Really Makes You Think. The film exists only to comfort an audience, to let them know that they’re smart for getting the point — something that absolutely should not happen in something that’s clearly meant to be a provocation.
Bloody Oranges begins by stitching together various story threads. An elderly couple, faced with imminent financial ruin, needs to win a dance contest for the prize money. A crooked politician pushing economic austerity is actually hoarding cash in offshore accounts. A young lawyer tries to climb the social ladder while dealing with his parents (guess who). And a young woman is abducted and assaulted after losing her virginity to her boyfriend. After the aforementioned epigraph, the film makes a soft turn into slightly more absurdist territory, but never registers more than a few empty, obvious shocks. Its thin attempts at cringe absurdist comedy seem very timid, as if things like detailed discussions of sex (such as a scene during a rather frank gynecological exam) or class mockery (as in a bit where a privileged woman has an aggrieved meltdown) are somehow anathema to French cinema. The violence is equally flaccid — a climactic moment of revenge couldn’t be more cliched — and while the sexual violation of a male character is played for squeamish laughs, the rape of a female character tastefully unfolds off-screen for maximum “unpleasantness.” What a scam.
Comparisons will range from the heavy non-sequitur of Quentin Dupieux all the way to the glowering scold of Michael Haneke, but the truth is that director Jean-Christophe Meurisse has concocted a completely predictable (and predictably bland) formula here. As character connections you know are coming get cleared up, and various intersections and coincidences accumulate, you’re left with nothing but what might pass for a late ’90s Tarantino knockoff with a stab at self-consciously finger-wagging political window dressing.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 5.