Take a Drink: for every mention or view of tangerines
Take a Drink: for carpentry
Take a Drink: when war intrudes on the old man
Take a Drink: for the tape
Take a Drink: whenever somebody talks about escaping to Estonia
Take a Drink: every time the Chechen threatens to kill the Georgian
Do a Shot: when exploding vehicles get mythbusted
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
The cavalcade of ethnic, religious, and territorial conflicts that broke out in former Soviet republics after the fall of the USSR has proven to be fertile territory for films about the human wartime experience, some truly great, like No Man’s Land and Pretty Village, Pretty Flame and others… not so much, like Angelina Jolie’s ambitious slog In the Land of Blood and Honey or Behind Enemy Lines.
Owen Wilson: Action Star, people. This happened.
Tangerines carries on that tradition (and their quality Oscar nomination record). Set in the middle of the Georgian-Abkhazian War, it follows the story of two Estonian men who remain in a secluded part of this contested land, trying to bring in one last harvest of tangerines before evacuating their adopted home. War intrudes in the form of two wounded men, a Chechen mercenary fighting for the Abkhazian cause and a young Georgian soldier.
Tangerines is a short (80-odd minutes), small (primarily one location) film, but it has a big heart and empathy for all. Writer/director Zaza Urushadze takes an intimately scaled, almost stagelike scenario and opens it up. The small mountain valley location and tangerine farm make for some beautiful imagery, and when well-staged violence erupts in this bucolic environment, it feels all the more shocking and brutal.
Like if Smaug came to Bilbo, instead of vice-versa
The acting is strong among the four principals, but Lembit Ultsak and Giorgi Nakhashidze stand out. The former is a compassionate, but steel-spined old man who has lost much, but who refuses to let that temper that compassion, and who won’t tolerate bloodshed on his land, at very least. His relationship with Nakhashidze’s belligerent Chechen killer becomes increasingly complex as the film (and actor) reveal deeper shades of feeling in the big brute. Together they offer some of the finest acting of the year.
The other standout aspect of the film is the first you’ll notice- Niaz Diasamidze’s heart-achingly beautiful score, employing the exotic and evocative panduri- a sort of cross between the guitar and the mandolin. This music underlines the simple but effective message of the film in double strokes- people deep down are people, and war is waste, the absolute worst kind.
There’s a very slight undercurrent of mystery as to why these two Estonian men have remained in this dangerous place, but it’s not a compelling enough arc to sustain the second act of the film, and consequently it starts to drag at times. It feels longer than its 80 minutes, although not ridiculously so.
Unlike this, which I’m pretty sure is eight hours long.
You can see exactly where Tangerines is headed almost from the first ten minutes, so the third act tragedy feels inevitable. However, it’s not executed that way, and ultimately feels forced and even an unnecessarily harsh hammer blow to the already sturdy nail of this film’s theme.
While it’s a bit of a surprise that this small, little-seen film upset presumed frontrunners (and excellent films) Force Majeure and Two Days, One Night, Tangerines is a poignant anti-war parable that deserves to be discussed alongside them.