Friday, January 15, 2016
In a desolate village, Ivo and Margus and the only two Estonians left in Georgia in '92, during the start of the Abkhaz war of independence. They plan to harvest the tangerines in their orchard. Two Chechen mercenaries, hired by the Abkhaz, show up at Ivo's home, and he gives them food. In an ambush by Georgian soldiers, three people are killed - and Ivo is left with nursing the wounded Ahmed, the Chechen, and Niko, the Georgian soldier, in his home. Despite initial hatred, Ivo manages to make friends out of Ahmed and Niko. When some Russian soldiers arrive, they start shooting and kill Niko and Margus, but Ahmed kills them. Ivo buries Niko near his son's grave, and decides to go to Estonia, while Ahmed leaves.
A measured and unbiased approach at the Abkhaz war of independence against Georgia, "Tangerines" uses the small story of an Estonian man nursing a wounded Chechen mercenary and a Georgian soldier as a synecdoche for the conflict, with some noble universal observations, pacifist messages and contemplations about the detrimental nature of territorial nationalism - as well that friendship and humanity can overcome and overgrow hatred. However, the movie suffers from a considerable empty walk here and there, since its simple one-note story almost seems like a short film which was overstretched into a feature, and it lacks a richer movie language. The best parts are subtle, though, and most viewers almost miss them - for instance, Ivo, an Estonian living in Georgia, was obviously a victim of ethnic cleansing himself during Stalin's deportations, and who knows how many Soviet genocides he survived; whereas it is by no chance that Ahmed is a Chechen, since two years later Chechnya would suffer a ten times worse fate than Abkhazia during its war of independence. The cinematography is well done, director Zaza Urushadze has a good sense for a minimalist style, whereas the main actor, Lembit Ulfsak, is excellent in the leading role of a man lost in a foreign homeland.