Jean-Christophe Meurisse (Blood Oranges): “I don’t sell a Coca-Cola ad”

After “Apnée” in 2016, Jean-Christophe Meurisse comes to put a masterful and enjoyable mess in the codes of French cinema. With “Blood Oranges”, the director delivers a vitriolic portrait of contemporary France in sequences balanced between comedy and horror. We were able to meet him to enter with him in the flesh of his “Blood oranges”.

What was the starting point of the project Blood oranges ?

Jean-Christophe Meurisse : I built my gaze, my language with actors, my troop of the Dogs of Navarre, but we can say that it’s just the form. I wrote the screenplay forBlood oranges starting from various facts in the world, in particular this story with Louise, the young girl, which is a real story. In 2015 in the United States, a young woman to take revenge on her rapist, recidivist, made him eat his testicles, after having put them in the microwave to soften them. I told myself that it was a very cinematographic image, wondering if it burst for example.

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Beyond the powerful political reach, the legitimate fight against male domination – a woman can be more barbaric than a man and that’s a terrible response – I was interested in this very cinematic image. It was a first stone, and I wanted to build a character who decided to repair himself immediately, to be immediately resilient.

So we are talking about a film and characters who are strongly rooted in reality?

J-C. M. : I worked like that for the other stories too, in particular the wave of suicides of seniors over-indebted by revolving credits and who did not get by. And rather than handing over their homes to creditors, they committed suicide. There were a lot of them in Europe in the 2010s. It touched me personally and intimately, and I wanted to contrast it with the fraud of a man of power.

With these three elements I wrote characters, a scenario, I put in cinema, my language and the spirit of the Dogs of Navarre, and that was the beginning of this film.

Blood oranges ©The Jokers Films

Blood oranges talks about the world. Anger and indignation have always been a driving force for me in the face of the inconsistencies and vices of our world. They say my film is violent, but it’s not me, it’s the world that is violent. It’s Van Gogh’s famous phrase, “it’s not me who’s sad, it’s the world that’s sad”. It is an indignant portrait of our contemporary world.

What are the proportions of writing and improvisation?

J-C. M. : My actors accept this rule of the game, I let them improvise to remain surprised, because if I am, and the actors are too, then the spectators will be too. I like this game, a naturalistic game with multiple intentions, where they choose their words.

I have my screenplay and my projections, but I’m trying to get these projections out of date, they aren’t enough in themselves. It is thanks to the actor who accepts to use his own words that these projections will be exceeded. I can stick to my dialogues and commas, but I’ll be bored in the end. And I don’t do this job to be bored, on the contrary. I have a planet, my actor has his, and we’re creating a third set. This is what happens with all the craftsmen of this shoot. It is a working philosophy.

Your film is radically different from what French cinema currently offers, how do you see its reception?

J-C. M. : Blood oranges gonna have a hard life. As it disrupts a lot of codes, no one is reassured, the operators for example. I suddenly arrive in the courtyard, “the courtyard” in every sense of the word. And when you do something different, there is always rejection. It is not so much the question of the politically incorrect that concerns me, but the reaction to my film. It is up to the people who receive it to say whether it is correct or incorrect. It is a complex question. But the most important thing is the content, what it says.

Blood oranges
Blood oranges ©The Jokers Films

I am not in the usual codes, we cannot say that it is totally a comedy, or find a particular tone, there are all the registers in it. It’s a chameleon movie, because I’m like that when I shoot. I want to laugh, desire, be afraid, all these emotions that I look for during the filming and the editing, they are transcribed in Blood oranges. Several tones, several genres, and logically we don’t really know what to do with it, and that creates difficulties to classify it.

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It hurts anyway, but is it the informality of the film or its purpose? I really do not know. And in any case I do not care, as the other would say: “it touches me one without moving the other”.

Breaking the codes, offering a unique experience, is that your definition of an artistic work?

J-C. M. : Art is made for that, to disturb. It is not a continuation of national education, it is a practice to disturb, disturb, awaken, realize, be moved. If a work of art succeeds in doing that to the viewer, it has already succeeded. And I want to remain the village idiot, I don’t want to turn into a political figure. The village idiot when he sees something scary he screams, something sad he cries, something funny he laughs heartily. Artists are like that, and I as an artist offer a mirror, perhaps distorted, but a mirror of society.

Blood oranges
Blood oranges ©The Jokers Films

Do you keep a sequence in memory that would have been particular to make?

J-C. M. : All the scenes have something … The discovery of the parents dead in bed, on Barbara’s track, I didn’t know how I was going to film it. With this camera mounted on the ceiling, we improvised it at the last moment with the electro conductor. It was not funny, which is unusual in my work, I was rather in deep emotion. It was a strong sequence to shoot, we were very focused, and it’s a special memory.

I am usually in a more orchestral and more improvised work, there it was more romantic, more held, more pictorial, very melancholy. It may be a new form of exploring things for me, for the future, we’ll see.

Blood oranges
Blood oranges ©The Jokers Films

The dialogue scene between Alexandre and Lilith too, it was a long day. I knew I wanted her to collapse, to take each other’s hands. I wanted her not to lie, to want to give herself justice in the truth, and for him to think of other means. But I didn’t have the words. It was done in fifteen takes, in a very strong emotional state with Lilith, who is a huge actress.

I was disturbed, because I was not completely satisfied with my wide shot, I really wanted to lose them in a huge frame, like in a drawing by Sempé. But I realize that this formality works very well in the end. Afterwards, I like all my scenes, like a litter of puppies.

Do you have any movies that inspired you to Blood oranges ?

J-C. M. : I really liked The New Savages, his indignant and instinctive side. I really like Roy Andersson’s shots, whom I don’t look like, but I like these characters lost in very wide shots, the composition aspect of a painting. The natural and improvised game that can be found at Cassavetes and Pialat too.

I prefer to do a long sequence than four sequences of ten seconds where we multiply the axes, and where we do not tell anything. I try in my cinema to get to the point, there are very few scenes where “he leaves the cafe and goes to his car”, where the brain breathes.

I don’t sell a Coca-Cola ad, I don’t need the brain to breathe. I go straight to the point and stay for a long time if there is need, if something is happening, if there is something to say.

The idea is to stay in the basics, and have fifty sequences rather than a hundred and fifty. I like things to live, and to live it has to be long, like at Pialat or at Kechiche. And when we improvise, there are times that create themselves. When we shoot like that, when we go out of the usual durations, there is something happening in the emotion, in the listening, in the concentration. There are probably some who drop out, but that leads to something else. And then it shakes up today’s codes, that of formatted efficiency, which we see in series for example.

You show a rape and suggest another to show especially the revenge of it. Two very different sequences but which together tell the nature ofBlood oranges ?

J-C. M. : Yes, the rape of a woman, we’ve seen it a thousand times in the cinema, so I just wanted to suggest it. I preferred to see the rape of a politician. The rape of a man, that complicates the matter. At the beginning, this deranged character, it is a form of masked avenger, who comes to rape the one who stole, a kind of revenge on a still funny ground. But it’s a manipulation, I’m doing it on purpose, we’re still in a sort of spaghetti western. Then in reality he meets a young girl and there it becomes very, very creepy. Above all, I didn’t want to show the rape of a woman, but rather her revenge. His rape does not interest me, his revenge yes.

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