VOD film review: Tangerines
Effective anti-war message8.5
Matthew Turner | On 18, Sep 2015
Director: Zaza Urushadze
Cast: Lembit Ulfsak, Giorgi Nakashidze, Elmo Nuganen, Mikhail Meskhi, Raivo Trass, Zurab Bealishvili
Watch Tangerines online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Curzon Home Cinema
The first Estonian movie to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Georgian writer-director Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines is set during the 1992 regional conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia and takes place in a rural village where most of the inhabitants have long since fled for their native Estonia. However, carpenter / grandfather Ivo (acting legend Lembit Ulfsak, the Estonian equivalent of, say, Max Von Sydow) has stayed behind, partly to help his worried neighbour Margus (Elmo Nuganen) harvest his annual tangerine crop before the conflict arrives on their doorstep.
However, it isn’t long before their worst fears are realised and there’s a bloody shoot-out in front of Margus’ house between Georgian and Russia-backed North Caucasian forces. Among the corpses, Ivo finds two badly wounded survivors, Chechen mercenary Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and Georgian soldier Nika (Mikhail Meskhi), and decides to take them both back to his house to nurse them back to health. Initially, Ahmed is keen to avenge his fallen comrade and threatens to kill the more seriously wounded Nika, but Ivo makes him promise that there will be no killing while both men are under his roof.
What follows is a slow-burn drama whereby both enemies gradually thaw towards each other. As an anti-war statement, it’s admittedly none too subtle and hardly original, but it’s undeniably effective, thanks to a sharply observed, steadily paced script, superb casting and strong performances from all three leads. Nakashidze, in particular, has real physical presence, suggestive of pent-up violence, so his character development plays against expectations, to rewarding effect.
Urushadze allows the film to unfold in an unhurried manner, so that we gradually relax around the characters, just as Ivo does, before the arrival of another group of Chechen soldiers suddenly ratchets up the tension.
And yet Tangerines is not without its subtly humorous moments, most notably when Ivo, Margus and their doctor friend push a military vehicle over a hillside and the doctor remarks, disappointedly, that he thought it would explode. “Cinema is fraud,” comes Ivo’s pointed reply. On top of that, the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of Rein Kotov, whose lush cinematography makes the rural landscape look impossibly idyllic and highlights bright colours, such as Margus’ tangerines or the matching orange jumper and green trousers he wears every day. There’s also an effectively minimalistic, movingly melancholic score from Niaz Diasamidze that heightens the atmosphere of the film.
Tangerines is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial.