History is rife with forgotten wars, and the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict that began in 1992 is one that probably slipped by a great many. This war, which killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands without homes, forms the backdrop for Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines. From the get-go, it is abundantly clear that Urushadze is not here to take sides.
His focus is on the few who have chosen to remain in their village in Estonia, specifically the old and weary Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and his good friend Margus (Elmo Nüganen), who are harvesting a crop of tangerines for sale. The conflict comes right to their doorstep, however, when the pair discovers a wounded Abkhazian mercenary, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), and shortly after, a similarly wounded Georgian soldier, Nika (Misha Meskhi). The two enemies are nursed back to health under Ivo’s roof, and it is clear that, at any point, one man could kill the other. Despite this sounding like a thriller, it is not – but then again, that is not the point.
The tension of the two soldiers constantly snapping at each other is tempered by the world-weary Ivo, who has clearly seen enough suffering to put up with either man’s bluster. As he says, both men are “children of death”, and he has little time for either of their particular standpoints. The film Urushadze has created is a poignant and quietly brilliant anti-war picture of bleak, effortless beauty. It sometimes owes more to theatre than cinema with its intense character work, but the director still uses a beautiful-yet-empty landscape to isolate characters that are truly lost in an abandoned land. Picking out individual performances in Tangerines is difficult, but the standouts are Lembit Ulfsak and Giorgi Nakashidze.
The resultant hot-and-cold nature of the two men and the antagonistic nature of Nika (whose taunts almost result in his own death) form the tension, and also humanity, of the movie. It is elevated above the standard anti-war film by its warmth; despite its unrelenting sorrow, there is a conviction that promises can be kept, and that men can be good regardless of their chosen side. A memorable and beautifully human piece of cinema.
Tangerines is released nationwide on 18th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Tangerines here: