Entertainment, Movie, Reviews

Tangerines, the Madness of War


Bitter enemies face off in the film Tangerines, a war film set in Estonia. Set on a small scale the movie’s message gives it vast meaning. Extremely well-acted, directed and depicted, this heartfelt little production shows what other meaningful films do even better about the pointlessness of war. One of the five nominated Foreign Language Films at the 87th Academy Award a more than worthy to be among the best.

Director’s Note: “Estonian settlements in the Caucasus go back more than 100 years. With the outbreak of the bloody conflict between Georgia and Russia- supported by Abkhazia in 1992, ethnic Estonians were forced to return to their ancestral homelands in Northern Europe. Their villages became empty- only a few people stayed.”

Determined to stay behind in his home village of Tbilisi a carpenter named Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) works hard all day making shipping crates for tangerines. His neighbor Margus (Elmo Nüganen) grows the citrus fruit and his orchard has a huge crop. The two are sort of in business together and need to get the fruit ready for sale before the tangerines spoil on the tree. With the war to take over their country getting closer each day they hurry the progress of picking and crating.

Margus (Elmo Nüganen) makes a plan with Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) to save his Tangerine crop
Margus (Elmo Nüganen) makes a plan with Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) to save his Tangerine crop

On this day as we see Ivo cutting wood for another crate when two Chechen mercenaries Ahmed (Giorgi Nakhashidze) and Ibragim (Kakha Arevadze) fighting for the Abkhazians pull up to his property looking for food. They leave after getting rations indicating to Ivo that it won’t be long before their homes will be caught up in a Georgian offensive. A day later a fight breaks out in the road near Margus’s house and ends with Ahmed and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian, the only survivors. Ivo takes the two wounded soldiers into his home and gives them aid. When Ahmed realizes that the other wounded man is his main foe, Ivo sets the rules, draws the lines between them and becomes the referee in a battle of wits and survival.

Chechen mercenaries Ahmed (Giorgi Nakhashidze) and Ibragim (Kakha Arevadze) give Ivo a ride to his house
Chechen mercenaries Ahmed (Giorgi Nakhashidze) and Ibragim (Kakha Arevadze) give Ivo a ride to his house

The film shows the extreme bitterness between factions, the madness of war and what a little compassion with some clever arbitration can do when you are in a hot spot. Director and writer of Tangerines Zaza Urushadze keeps his film moving at a nice pace telling his story with a small central cast. He develops his characters quickly and within the first 10 minutes of his film we know them, have a good idea of their peril and the situation in which they find themselves. Working his camera to show the determination of Ivo to help his neighbor by building more crates for his tangerine crop, shows the importance of friendship even with an impending crisis heading his way.

Pitting two opposing forces against each other in the same house, Urushadze creates a feel of uncertainty. He lets it build as the war starts to surround the village until the hammer falls pounding out the brutal finale showing there are no winners in war. When all is said and done, the audience finds out Ivo’s woodworking shop was meant for other reasons as well.

Tangerines has not been rated by the MPAA but contains abusive language and war violence. The film plays out in Russian with English subtitles. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have some scenes that are inappropriate for adolescents.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good film and justifiably honored by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. (A)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Lembit Ulfsak, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakhashidze, Elmo Nüganen, and Raivo Trass, Kakha Arevadze
Directed by: Zaza Urushadze
Genre: Drama, War, Foreign
Foreign: In Russian with English subtitles
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains abusive language, war violence
Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min
Release Date: May 15, 2015
Opens: Miami Dade College Tower Theater (Miami), the Living Room Cinema (Boca Raton) and the Cinema Paradiso (Hollywood)
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films

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Film Editor John Delia has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 12 years and earned a Bachelors degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Follow John on Twitter @staragent1 or send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com