Friday, January 22, 2016
At the Movies: Tangerines
Zaza Urushadze, 2013.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% Fresh
So here’s something kind of interesting: apparently throughout the twentieth century there were little colonies of Estonian farmers in the Caucasus. When civil wars started breaking out after the end of the Soviet era, most of these folks high-tailed it out of there, leaving abandoned villages behind them. How do I know about all this? Easy -- it’s explained in the opening credits of Tangerines, a somber but engrossing Estonian-Georgian joint production.
The movie takes place in one of these abandoned settlements. Two Estonian guys have stayed behind. One, Magnus, is a dim but affable farmer who just wants to get his bumper crop of tangerines off the trees and to market before making for Estonia. His friend Ivo, the film’s central character, is an older and wiser man who is sticking around for more mysterious (although, it must be said, eminently guessable) reasons. Their exposed isolation makes them extremely vulnerable, and it doesn’t make things any easier when a running battle leaves two opposing soldiers badly wounded at their doorsteps. Being decent guys, they try to save both men from their wounds, and then from each other, and ultimately, I suppose, from war itself. As you would expect in real life, the results are mixed.
Tangerines is something of a closed-room drama about four men, and only four men, in an unusual and dangerous situation. Aside from them, there are only a country doctor, occasional passing soldiers, and a picture of a young woman. The setting – village, houses, tangerine orchard – are elegantly simple, modest places that are filmed sympathetically, so we can see how important they are to the people who live in them.
Prognosis: “Tangerines' impassioned message and the strong work of a solid cast,” says the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, “more than make up for the movie's flawed narrative and uneven structure.” I agree with the bit about the solid cast. Otherwise, I’d say that a strong structure and well-paced development keep the film from being buried by an impassioned message. Fortunately, what we have here is not a message but an intelligent, effective story.
Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.