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Tangerines (Mandariinid) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
23 10 2015

ImageDirected by Zara Urushadze

This sweet, mournful film, an Estonian/Georgian co-production, was Estonia's nomination for the Foreign Language Oscar this year. We meet Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) busy making crates for his neighbour Margus' (Elmo Nurgenen) tangerines. It's been a bumper year and they're struggling to get all the fruit ready for market. They are two of the few remaining Estonians in northern-western Georgia, a community that was ‘planted' by the Russians several generations ago. It's the early 1990s, and most of their neighbours have now returned to Estonia, because their village lies in Abkhazia, where a secessionist civil war is raging.

The peace is soon shattered by warfare, when a skirmish on their land leaves two injured survivors, one, left for dead, a young Georgian, Niko (Misha Meskhi) and one a hard-bitten Chechen mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidze) fighting with the Russian-backed rebels. What follows is a simple tale of hopeful pacifism, as the two casualties are at first kept apart and then reluctantly come together over the small domestic pleasures of the kitchen table in Ivo's shabby but homely cottage.

Four masterly performances bring humanity, delicacy and humour to what might have been a schematic pacifist tract, in particular the veteran Ulfsak's patient and sorrowful Ivo. It's a totally male scenario, the only female presence being Ivo's carefree young granddaughter, now back living in Estonia, smiling out from her photo on a shelf, a reminder of happier and more innocent times, and a focus of a pure kind of longing for each man.

Though historically placed, the essence of this fable could also have been set anywhere, anytime. War is just something that happens unbidden to these individuals, as it is to most. Unshowy direction that avoids overt meaningfulness sticks with an unadorned narrative of the small things that make up ordinary life. From being near death, Niko is now preoccupied with rewinding his favourite music tape, damaged in the attack, and both men join in the race to get the tangerines harvested, as if the world is normal again. Even though you need to remind yourself that it isn't. It's not so much the money, says Margus of his harvest, but the pity of all the waste. And it's the pity of war that this film gives us.

Seen at Zeffirelli's, Ambleside, October 5 2015

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