September 23, 2015 by Liza Lou
Tangerines is an Estonian-Georgian film that had its initial release in Georgia back in 2013. It’s took us Brits a while to catch up as it finally had theatrical release over here this week. It was written, produced and directed by Georgian born Zaza Urushadze. The plot has some complex details so that’s where I am going to start by outlining it as simply as I can..
The story takes place in 1992, during the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia. Many Estonians who live in the area have returned to their homeland but two have stayed behind in order to harvest the season’s crop of Tangerines; Ivo played by Lembit Ulfsak and Margus played by Elmo Nuganen.
While the two go about their business, they become caught in the crossfire of two small bands of soldiers. Two survive, one each from either side, but are badly wounded and Ivo has no choice but to take them in. With the help of Margus and a doctor he nurses them back to health.
Before I go any further, I want to talk about Ivo and Margus and the marvellous actors who play them. Ivo is a deeply compassionate man and is driven by the good within him. He is old and wise and life has obviously affected him, Ulfsak is flawless with his portrayal of this and is undeniably the star of the show. Margus is younger and desperate to make good. It is clear why he has stayed behind, driven solely by his tangerine business and the land on which the fruit grow but Ivo’s reasons are more ambiguous. This adds mystery that Urushadze teases out until the film’s conclusion and it’s evident that the characters are superbly developed. Watching the relationship between Ivo and Margus is sweet and sometimes humourous as the pair (both in characterisation and acting) both balance and compliment.
As the two soldiers slowly recover they each vow that the other has to die. Ivo secures a temporary truce from them while they are under his roof and for a while keeps them in separate rooms under lock and key. Giorgi Nakashidze who plays Ahmed (the soldier on the Abkhazia side) is stoic and intense. Even when simply repeating the same words over and over again, the deliverance is convincing. The Georgian soldier Niko (Misha Meskshi) takes a little longer to connect to but this is due his longer recovery (and less time on-screen). The truth is that Urashadze is truly a master of his art and that includes developing these two. Watching a conflict switch between hard and soft with a huge whiff of ‘anything could happen’ in the air is magical. When the two come face to face, literally over Ivo’s kitchen table, the obviously clear tension reflects great on camera.
Urashadze has filled this film with intensity and it’s almost poetic. The scenes are sweeping without feeling overly hyped which only lends to war elements being much more dramatic. Drama is echoed in close up shots when close up shots are needed but again, unlike so many films of this genre, they are not over done.
Of course there is an underlying darkness throughout but in the second act humanity is shown in each of the four characters. Sometimes this is very raw and other times it’s touching. When a peak is reached within the plot, the pace of the film brings you back to steady roll that ambles along with the beautiful musical score that only adds to atmospheric elements. The conclusion is an expected one without being predictable and we finally learn why Ivo stays put. Sure, they are parts of the ending that are heart wrenching but they are also very poignant. Tangerines is a story of humanity and pacifism but the conclusion was never going to be an easy one.
I LOVE this film!