11 Jun 2015

Tangerines - film review

From At The Movies, 7:50 pm on 11 June 2015

Directed by Zaza Urushadze

Simon Morris reviews the Estonian Oscar nominee Tangerines - one house, three nationalities, one great film.

Estonian produced film Tangerines is not actually set in Estonia. It takes place hundreds of kilometres away, on the border of Georgia and Russian Chechnya where there’s been a small Estonian community for over a hundred years. People like tangerine-farmers Ivo and Margus.

Tangerines takes place in 1990, when war broke out between the two neighbours. The Estonians are neutral bystanders, but are far more likely to be collateral damage. One day there’s a gunfight between Chechen and Georgian patrols. When the smoke clears, Ivo discovers two badly-wounded survivors – a Chechen called Ahmet and a Georgian, Nika. Ivo carries them back to his house and nurses them back to life. The big problem now is keeping them apart so they don’t kill each other.

As the two soldiers recuperate they find themselves examining their reasons for fighting – and, by implication, what motivates any conflict. In fact, neither Ahmet nor Nika are particularly political. They’re just soldiers who fight for their pay, and for their comrades.

And that’s basically the story. Like most war-movies, Tangerines isn’t about the big picture. Who can see that when you’re face-down in the mud, or helplessly bandaged and unarmed?

Tangerines – which was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award this year – was directed by Georgian director Zaza Urushadze, who in 25 years has made just five films. But on the strength of Tangerines I’m strongly tempted to check out the other four. It really is a masterpiece.

It’s also a masterpiece with the bare minimum of elements – four very strong characters, an easily-grasped, riveting situation, and an ending that will punch you in the heart.