Synopsis: Set in 1992, during the growing conflict between Georgia and Abkhazian separatists in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, this compassionate tale focuses on two Estonian immigrant farmers who decide to remain in Georgia long enough to harvest their tangerine crop. When the war comes to their doorsteps, Ivo takes in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides. The fighters vow to kill each other when they recover, but their extended period of recovery has a humanizing effect that might transcend ethnic divides.
Release Date: May 1, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, War
Tangerines is set during the War in Abkhazia in 1992, a conflict between the Georgian government and the Russian-supported Abkhaz separatists. Most of the Estonian immigrants who were caught in the middle of the conflict have been forced back to their ancestral homeland in Northern Europe, but a couple of tangerine farmers named Ivo (legendary Estonian actor Lembit Ulfsak from Good Hands) and Margus (Purge‘s Elmo Nüganen) have stayed behind to try and harvest their newest crop before the war gets too close and they have to flee themselves. One day, Ivo hears gunfire outside and, upon investigating, he finds a couple of destroyed military vehicles. Among the death and debris he finds two men alive – an Abkhazian rebel named Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze from A Fold in My Blanket) and a Georgian solider named Niko (The Conflict Zone‘s Mikheil Meskhi). The compassionate Ivo takes both men into his home and offers them food, shelter, and medical treatment for their wounds. Ivo only asks for one thing in return: the solemn word of both men that they will not kill each while other under his roof. They both agree, but the truce is a tense one, with everyone involved knowing that as soon as the soldiers are well enough to set foot outside of the house, they are fair game. Not only that, but the occupants of the house still have to deal with the war raging outside the walls of Ivo’s little farmhouse.
It’s always a welcome relief when a unique war film that doesn’t rely on machine gun fire and flying shrapnel to make its point comes along. Tangerines is one of those unique war films. It’s not that there’s no violence in it – it does have its fair share of shooting and bombing – but the war is more of a backdrop than an inciting event. Writer/director Zaza Urushadze (Three Houses) uses the tragedy of the war to bring out the humanistic traits of his characters. Ivo’s kindness and compassion has gotten him caught between Ahmed and Niko, two men who have never met but are taught to hate each other with extreme prejudice. The longer that Ahmed and Niko go without killing each other, the more they learn that the man sitting across the room from them is not really their enemy. And that, in turn, makes the entire war questionable in the eyes of both men.
A little previous knowledge about the War in Abkhazia is helpful but not necessary for American audiences to full grasp some of the levity of Tangerines; unlike Vietnam or World War II, the War in Abkhazia is not a well-publicized conflict, but the emotions that are brought about by it are universal. It’s a bit like the feeling a Russian would have while seeing a movie about the American Civil War; Americans may not know exactly why the two sides are fighting and precisely what is at stake, but they’ll understand the important concept of two mortal enemies staying under the same roof during wartime.
At its root, Tangerines is war movie that’s not about fighting. It questions why people fight when they are, essentially, all the same. The subject of politics is obviously much more complicated than that, but as far as the soldiers who are doing the actual fighting are concerned, it shouldn’t be. Tangerines shows that they probably have more in common with each other than they initially realize.
Because Tangerines is such a character-based film, the pressure falls squarely on the shoulders of the actors to deliver memorable performances, and they pull it off. It’s easy to see why Lembit Ulfsak is considered one of the greatest Estonian actors to ever appear in movies; his portrayal of the compassionate-yet-firm Ivo, the tangerine farmer stuck between the two sworn enemies to whom he has offered shelter, is nothing short of astounding. Giorgi Nakashidze and Mikheil Meskhi are brilliant as well as the two soldiers who have unwillingly been forced together out of a lack of any other options. There is a fragile chemistry that exists between all three of the men, one that results in a tension thick enough for the audience to practically see onscreen. At one point, Ivo sits the two soldiers down at the table in an attempt to start anew, and says “Ahmed, meet Niko.” All three actors play their parts with the restraint of men who have no choices in their respective situations – everyone accepts the fact that there will be no killing in Ivo’s home. As the film rolls on, the characters develop a shaky trust between each other, with the performances walking a thin line between subtle and explosive. All three of the main actors in Tangerines deliver powerhouse performances that, in turn, end up carrying the film.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Zaza Urushadze
- Producer(s): Ivo Felt
- Screenwriter(s): Zaza Urushadze
- Cast: Lembit UlfsakElmo NüganenGiorgi Nakashidze Mikheil MeskhiRaivo Trass
- Editor(s): Alexander Kuranov
- Cinematographer: Rein Kotov
- Production Designer(s): Irakli Mchedlidze
- Costume Designer: Simon Matchabeli
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Niaz Diasamidze
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: EstoniaGeorgia