"On ne peut plus rien dire" (you just can't say anything anymore) is a sentence often pronounced by right-wing politicians and media in France these days and one several of the characters of Oranges Sanguines seem to agree with. In its hilarious opening scene set during a regional dance competition, its judges seem to tiptoe around what is socially acceptable when it comes to fair chances in society and how modern sensibilities and various disadvantages must be taken into consideration, the conversation turning much more heated than it strictly required with the masks easily slipping and frustration giving place to anger.
So can we really no longer say anything? Under a deceptive facade, the film sets itself the task to challenge whether we can not so much say but show and laugh about anything. With a string of seemingly unconnected stories (at first), Oranges Sanguines offers us a caustic portrayal of French society but also luring us into a sense of false security: a retired couple drowning in debt is considering some more extreme measures with heir son, a careerist lawyer, blissfully unaware, a corrupt politician is about to have a scandal blow up in his face... It all seems pretty harmless, with the ills and inequalities of society laid bare.
Except that the film takes an unexpected path with a gear change into a much more dangerous and unexpected territory as the screen goes black and the text "Now is the time for monsters" appears. What follows is a scene that is genuinely, jaw-droppingly transgressive, all the more effective as it is so perfectly executed to jolt its audience as we realise what is actually happening, especially after a red herring, the introduction of a faintly ridiculous character. Yet this is only the beginning...
As a comedy, Oranges Sanguines is only intermittently successful, with more chuckles than belly laughs. Yet it is more successful as a jet black film in its second half when the title takes all its sense. Who are the real monsters? Peel out the orange skin of niceness and civilisation and just underneath, here they are, we all are, with our savagery and depravity exposed and only needing a trigger to appear. The film does more than offer us a slice of easy cynicism, rather, it explores the dual nature of humanity and does not feel like an empty provocation. While Oranges Sanguines feel episodic at times, especially at first, there is a chaotic energy and a willingness to go much further than others might have dared that sets it apart from your usual societal satire. Prepare to gasp!
Star rating: ★★★☆☆
Review by Laurent De alberti
Official Selection, Out of Competion
Oranges Sanguines. France 2021. Directed by Jean-Christopher Meurisse. Starring Christophe Paou, Blanche Gardin...