Tangerines: An in-depth exploration of honour and nationalism
by Laurence Boyce
- The Academy Award-nominated movie is a clever and moving examination of war
The Estonian/Georgian co-production Tangerines [+see also:
film profile] by Zaza Urushadze has surprised many with the sheer amount of success it has achieved on the international circuit. But when one examines the movie more closely, its universal themes, powerful performances and strong direction make it less of a shock that the film has resonated with audiences across the world.
At the height of the 1991 conflict between Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, a small enclave of settled Estonians is mostly empty apart from Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and Margus (Elmo Nüganen), who have opted to stay despite the fighting near them. One day, the fighting is brought to their front door, leaving wounded soldiers in its wake. Ivo decides to take them in, despite the fact that the soldiers are from opposing sides of the conflict. As Ivo nurses them back to health, he discovers the scars of war and the men behind the uniforms. Will any peace be reached?
The story of “two enemies being forced to put up with each other” is a well-worn trope in war movies and beyond, and it is to the film’s credit that it manages to avoid clichés as it examines honour, nationalism and the desire to defend one’s own homeland. Ostensibly set in one location, cinematographer Rein Kotov manages to keep the film out of the realms of the theatrical as it sets up a world in which a rural idyll is rudely interrupted by war. The work is also brought to life by some strong and charismatic performances, with the likes of legendary Estonian actor Ulfsak bringing a paternal yet hard-edged aspect to proceedings. Everything combines to create a moving piece of work that – even for those familiar with the genre – creates a genuine air of tension.
Despite the fact that the film was released domestically in 2013 (to great praise, winning numerous national and international awards), its recent Golden Globe and Academy Award success should see a renewed interest in the title, and it should be able to do another round of the festival circuit as well as finding more attention from distributors.