Tangerines (2013)

Review #1,179

Director:  Zaza Urushadze
Cast:  Lembit Ulfsak, Elmo NĂ¼ganen, Giorgi Nakashidze
Plot:  War in Georgia, Apkhazeti region in 1990.  An Estonian man Ivo has stayed behind to harvest his crops of tangerines.  In a bloody conflict at his door, a wounded man is left behind, and Ivo is forced to take him in.

Genre:  Drama / War
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  87min
Rating:  NC16 for some coarse language.
International Sales:  Cinemavault

“I will avenge my friend.  This is a holy thing for us old man, you don't understand.”

The human cost of war is reduced, not necessarily in emotional impact, to four individuals caught in its violence, oppression and fear.  Set in 1992 during the war in Georgia, Tangerines is a largely effective drama about prejudice and reconciliation centering on an old man named Ivo, who makes crates to sell fresh tangerines in. 

He works with Margus, the younger tangerine farmer, whom like him decides not to flee to Estonia with his family despite the impending hostility, well at least until he sells off his harvest.  The two men take in two wounded soldiers, both fighting each other, after a violent skirmish near their property. 

Writer-director Zaza Urushadze, of Georgian descent, finds black humour in Man’s innate hatred for the other, but also creates a film of warmth with moments of genuine compassion through the value of brotherhood.  The supporting cast give decent performances, but are eclipsed by Lembit Ulfsak, who plays Ivo.

It is a straightforward picture, but with some unexpected scenes that alter the course of the narrative sharply.  Some critics have argued that these scenes seem to have been plucked out of thin air if only to advance the storytelling, that Urushadze doesn’t have enough dramatic material to last the course. 

While Tangerines may feel that way, the moderately slow pacing and superb cinematography allow viewers to engage themselves with the subject matter and characters more emotionally, particularly when the film is accompanied by a truly melancholic if mesmerizing recurrent melody played on traditional instruments, both bowed and plucked. 

Margus:  They will be here soon.
Ivo:  Who?
Margus:  The Georgians and Russians.  And the tangerines will stay in the trees.  You know what this war is called?  The war of citrus.
Ivo:  What do you mean?
Margus:  It's a war over my tangerines.
Ivo:  Be normal.  They are fighting for the land.
Margus:  For the land where my tangerines grow.

Man's capacity for violence through hate is monstrous – to conquer what is claimed to be rightfully theirs in the name of ethnicity and history, but so is his suffering under the piercing eyes of dark irony – that things could be so different with tolerance and understanding. 

Urushadze's telling of the story, viewed through the film's pacifist lens, shows that however honourable fighting one's 'enemies' might be, when the enemy is humanized, when he is understood as a man, the bitterness would go away.  Won't it be sweeter that way?  

Tangerines operates at the level of the microcosm, but its reflection of a broad humanity associated with forgiveness, reconciliation and tolerance resonates far beyond its chamber-esque setting.

Verdict:  A straightforward and largely effective chamber-esque drama on the human cost of war viewed through its pacifist lens.


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