The Blood Oranges (Philip Haas, 1997)
I’ve seen it claimed in a smattering of reviews that some folks think the reason The Blood Oranges has such a low rating on IMDB is that people are uncomfortable with the subject matter. [For example, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118743/reviews; check legumes9’s review from 29Sep2006, which like all IMDB reviews can’t be directly linked.] It’s certainly possible that there is some of that, but I’m guessing there’s an equal amount of low reviews because it’s boring, generally badly-acted (yet another film providing hard evidence that the performance of every hot young woman in Twin Peaks—in this case Sheryl Lee—was a complete fluke), and far more sexually conservative than various descriptions of the film would have you believe.
Lee and Charles Dance (Gosford Park) play Fiona and Cyril, a hedonist couple on holiday in Illyria (fictional in modern times, but back in the day, was on the eastern border of the Adriatic Sea; basically, today, the shoreline occupied by Croatia and Montenegro). Their lazy days pass all alike until a VW bus containing Hugh (Broken Harvest‘s Colin Lane), Catherine (Oxygen‘s Laila Robbins), and their children, who are immediately invited to stay by Fiona and Cyril. Thus begins what would seem to be a game of sexual cat-and-mouse. Except this is where the timeline of the story gets confusing…
…maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, or maybe Haas and his wife Belinda attempted to stick a little too close to the John Hawkes novel they were adapting (Hawkes was notorious for playing with timelines), because it seemed to me characters were still hinting an hour into the movie that they wanted to do things it looked an awful lot like they’d all BEEN doing at least thirty-five minutes before. (Or maybe fifteen minutes before; this movie has a way of making every second stretch out tortuously.) The problem here, assuming this wasn’t a case of the Haases taking Hawkes way too literally, is that smoldering glances and sexual tension can only take one so far. It can take one much farther given characters one can care about, but our would-be pals here suffer from a great deal of flat affect. Even Dance, much of the time, feels like he’s phoning it in (and Lee and Lane are lost causes altogether). And good lord, are you really going to accuse a movie of sexual libertinism where people are still blowing up over their spouses cheating on them despite the fact that everyone in this movie is continually talking about how much they want to bed one another? Come on, people. (And depending on how you want to read the movie’s climactic scene, which is framed, and obviously meant to be interpreted in one way, but could easily be framed in another, much more sexually conservative, manner, the movie can be read as… well, positively puritan where one character is concerned.)
I have not read the Hawkes novel on which this film is based. But judging by my experience with Hawkes, I suspect that when I do read it (and I will, because I like the man’s writing), I will entertain the possibility that there is a very good film to be adapted from it. This, however, is not it. Not at all. Like many “erotic thrillers”, this is neither erotic nor thrilling in any way. *