Part drama, part comedy, Tangerine is the raw account of a transgender prostitute whose love troubles take the audience on a revelatory tour of the criminal underworld she inhabits. It is Christmas Eve in sunny L.A. and Sin-Dee Rella has just been released from a short stint in prison. As she shares a celebratory doughnut in seedy Donut Time with her bestfriend Alexandra, also a transgender sex-worker, she is told that her pimp boyfriend, Chester, has been cheating on her while she was away. Immediately, she decides to hunt down the unknown woman.
Followed by Alexandra, who is promoting her own singing show to whoever may listen, Sin-Dee has a number of rough and bizarre interactions on her revenge-seeking quest. Her mission becomes tragic and hilarious all at once, and when she finally finds Chester’s new girl that night, she violently drags her across the neighbourhood to confront Chester, only to remember halfway through the journey that she must attend Alexandra’s show. She decides to take the girl with her, which leads to many amusing incidents and a change in dynamics between the trio.
Another central character is Armenian taxi-driver Razmik, a family man who works hard to be able to afford services from trans prostitutes. A peek into the Christmas family dinner in his home introduces a wider perspective. The criminal underworld appears as a parallel reality that may not mix with but definitely affects the entire family. This juxtaposition exposes the wide gap between society’s expectations and the man’s real desires, shining the spotlight on the limbo that many decide to occupy in order to satisfy both.
Apart from the fact that Sin-Dee and Alexandra are played by non-actors, the most impressive feat of the film is that it was shot using an iPhone 5s smartphone. This choice was made due to a very limited budget, but rather than detract from the aesthetics, it lends the images an edge by giving them a raw quality. The close-ups and the candid feel bring the audience right into the action, as if they were voyeuristically witnessing the drama. This is an inventive production that stands out for its honest depiction of a rowdy yet hushed reality. Just like its protagonists, Tangerine dares to be unapologetically real and different. It bares some of the harsh, darker elements of human nature, but it ultimately hails solidarity and friendship as the social glues that hold humanity together.
Tangerine is released in the UK on 13th November 2015. It is part of the official competition at the 59th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for Tangerine here: