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Bloody Oranges review – flawed but effective state-of-the-nation address

Jean-Christophe Meurisse's political satire often feels like a dead-end, though is saved by fine performances and flashes of humanity

There’s not much to like about the people in Bloody Orangesthen again, that's the point. Director Jean-Christophe Meurisse takes aim at the fluffy neoliberalism and political hypocrisy of Macron-era France, supercharging his ire at politicians and bourgeois identity, though the film fails to elevate its talking points to anything truly multifaceted. However, a series of subtle performances and a recurrent streak of self-loathing does save the film from the abyss.

We follow three separate but interlinked stories; ageing couple Olivier (Olivier Saladin) and Laurence (Lorella Cravotta) enter a rock ‘n’ roll competition in a desperate last-ditch attempt to drag themselves out of crushing debt; teenager Louise (Lilith Grasmug) hopes to lose her virginity to a boy at a party; Finance Secretary Stéphane (Christophe Paou) stresses over a journalist who may have found some incriminating evidence, with paths crossing courtesy of a psychopath (Fred Blin) who encroaches on the story.

If rock ‘n’ roll competitions, interlinking stories, and psychopaths make you think of Pulp Fiction, you’re not a million miles off: at the centre of Tarantino’s classic are protagonists unable to exert any control or narrative agency in a hyperviolent, chaotic world, and the same applies here, albeit with a more overtly political bend.

What starts as a satirical comedy about a group of mostly selfish misogynists (teen girl excepted) takes a major turn at around the half-way mark into something grisly and horrendous, pitching the film closer to the work of the extreme French cinema that became so prevalent at the turn of the century, thanks to films like Haute Tension and Martyrs, alongside the works of Gaspar Noé. It is worth checking content guidance notes ahead of viewing if you require forewarning when viewing sexual assault and extreme bodily harm onscreen.

No doubt, the film becomes trickier to deal with after this halfway point. There’s a grim fury behind Meurisse’s filming style that manifests in a certain coldness, pitching away from catharsis. It’s a choice that doesn’t allow the audience narrative satisfaction – a fine choice – but in this instance the structure of the rest of the film doesn’t necessarily fit. Its satire is simply too dead-end, attacking its targets but not really implicating them: this is satire as the court jester, poking at the elites without really brutalising them (even if our protagonists are themselves brutalised).

Still, amidst this coldness, most of the performances tap into a certain humanity. Christophe Paou’s Finance Secretary may be the precise kind of hypocritical politician we all love to hate, but he finds notes of guilt and pure fear. Saladin and Cravotta have a genial chemistry that suggests a lifelong couple, but also one whose love for each other blinds them to the reality of their predicament. Grasmug’s journey from innocent teen to something altogether more furious and complex is entirely convincing and believable. Flawed as it may be, Bloody Oranges is an effective state-of-the-nation address.

Bloody Oranges is released in UK cinemas and streaming platforms on 16 September.

Where to watch

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