In a nutshell: Tangerines is a potent anti-war drama delivered with dramatic panache and an emotional wallop
Tangerines features: Lembit Ulfsak (Ivo), Elmo Nüganen (Margus), Giorgi Nakashidze (Ahmed), Misha Meskhi (Niko)
Writer/Director: Zaza Urushadze
2015-16 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 7-13 Dec, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 15-20 Dec, 8pm
Set in war-torn western Georgia in the early 90s, this modest but exceedingly well-hewn and performed Estonian film makes a powerful and moving anti-war statement through throwing together two wounded enemy soldiers, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and Niko (Misha Meskhi). Taken into the home of neutral Estonian Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) after a firefight, they are forced into each other’s company while being nursed to recovery. Ivo makes them promise not to harm each other under his roof. Through gritted teeth they accede, confining their expressions of hatred to jibes and insults, each boasting that they will kill the other the moment they are well enough to venture outside.
By day, Ivo, a retired carpenter, leaves his patients alone while he builds wooden crates in preparation for his neighbour Margus’s (Elmo Nüganen) tangerine harvest. The two men have elected not to join their fellow local Estonians in fleeing to safer territory, hoping to salvage a bumper crop before the nearing war arrives in full ferocity.
By night, the good-natured Margus visits Ivo and the wounded soldiers, and meal by meal, drink by drink, word by word, barriers begin to break down. Ivo and Margus are the agents of this change. The combined effect of these cleverly contrasting characters is to resurrect the humanity of the enemy soldiers: Ivo is worldly, wise and philosophical, given to wry expression of his contempt for the fierce patriotism and ethnic and religious differences that have set his warring guests against each other in battle and brought their war to the doorstep of his humble abode, while Margus is simple and good-natured, making the most honest of livings working the soil, coaxing plump, sweet tangerines from the earth. For him, the war is an inconvenient incidental whose only relevance is in its potential to jeopardise his bumper harvest.
A framed photograph of Ivo’s beautiful granddaughter oversees the interactions between the men from the kitchen wall, as if reminding them of a far better world on the other side of war. The younger of the soldiers, Niko, cannot stop looking at her, and admits when challenged by Ivo that he is taken by her beauty. This is a poignant and eloquent signifier of his humanity, a revealing of the young man behind the military façade, full of life and yearning.
A narrative twist brings about a point of reckoning for Niko and Ahmed in which they are confronted with a life or death decision as to whether to respond to each other as friends or enemies.
The film is stylistically conventional – chronologically straight ahead, a realist jigsaw picture in which every part fits to form a near-perfect whole. The dialogue is Hemingwayesque in its tightness and potent simplicity, the characters utterly believable while being manipulated like pawns in the service of the anti-war theme that runs pure and true as a mountain stream from beginning to end.
Tangerines gets all the dramatic fundamentals right and if that’s an old-fashioned look, so what? The main game here is to show the differences between enemies as specious and childish, and the common humanity within as ultimately transcendent, and the goods are delivered with dramatic panache and an emotional wallop. That’s terrific filmmaking in any era.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives