The last of the five films nominated for the foreign language Oscar, Tangerines has the distinction of being least liked by the critics (only a 70% RT, while the other four are in the 90%s!) and just being edged out by Wild Tales for being most popular among audiences.
Tangerines is the story of the Abkhazian War (yes, that was a thing) in the ‘90s, where Georgians fought the Russians for control of Abkhazia. Well, “Abkhazian separatists”, which I think is pretty much like “Crimean separatists”.
Any, our hero is an Estonian crate-maker named Ivo, who lives alone after his family fled back to Estonia at the beginning of the war. He’s making crates for his neighbor, Margus, a tangerine farmer. Margus is fretting because his tangerines are ready for gathering, but there’s no one left in the village but the two of them, and they need to fill 250 crates.
The mystery is why Ivo and Margus stayed behind, although Margus at least has the lure of a tangerine crop ready to be harvested.
A skirmish in the abandoned village leaves Ivo with two wounded soldiers, one Georgian and the other Chechen. (Chechen mercenaries fought for the Russians—this is right before the First Chechen War in 1994.) He nurses them back to health, all while they’re spitting and cursing and swearing to kill the other.
But they do have a code of honor in common, so they behave themselves while recuperating under Ivo’s roof.
So, what we have here, if you haven’t guessed, is the classic setup for an anti-war film: As you might guess, the two learn that they don’t really have the animosity for each other that the people they’re fighting for have cultivated in them. But it’s done well here, and it’s never a bad lesson. (Even if it is a rather futile lesson.)
Well directed by a guy you’ve never heard of and well acted by guys you’ve never heard of. It’s only real shortcoming is that it doesn’t last long enough for the reconciliation-of-sorts between the Georgian and the Chechen to fully resonate, so it seems sort of innocent—even childlike.
But we didn’t mind that, particularly. I kind of felt that the two had bonded just by virtue of being honor-bound not to kill each other, as well as a few other things.
I never did figure out what Estonians were doing nearly 3,000 miles away from Estonia in Abkhazia though.
Bonus points for being largely comprehensible to my one-year-of-Russian ears.