Film Trance new boy Julian Uzunov continues his examination of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars by reviewing Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines.
Tangerines is Estonia’s submission to the 2015 Academy Awards. Over the past year, it has earned a lot of hype throughout Europe and was also nominated for a Golden Globe, despite eventually being beaten by Russia’s Leviathan.
This war drama takes place in a small village in Abkhazia, Georgia, during the 1992-93 war. Once a populous town inhabited by Estonian families, now only two men remain: their families and friends now fleeing the conflict. However, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and Margus (Elmo Nüganen) decide to stay back to harvest this year’s tangerine crop. As expected, the war reshapes their lives and their farm becomes a battlefield between two small groups of soldiers. In the aftermath they find only two surviving soldiers and save them: Ahmed (Giorgi Nakhashidze), a Chechen mercenary fighting for the Abkhazians, and Niko (Mikhei lMekshi), a Georgian. Having saved them from death, Ivo finds himself attempting to come between the two people who have vowed to kill each other and make them come to their senses.
The film carries a strong and always relevant anti-war message, while the set up is very clever and makes for some very intense scenes. Its dialogue is very engaging and captures very well the unpredictable nature of people in such situations. Lembit Ulfsak is good as the old fatherly figure, who has kind of lost everything, but finds new light in his life with the new young men, who he bonds with like sons.
In my honest opinion, however, this is all far too cliché. Nowadays, award-winning filmmaking should be so much more than just making a film with a “War is bad” slogan plastered all over it. We have seen this done many times – perhaps one too many – and it really is the same formula: show the dehumanizing effects of war, put the character in a situation without war, show the character’s true humanity, and allow him to have a revelation on how unnecessary and stupid war is. War drama done; Oscar please.
Saying this however, it does feel like the creators put a lot of soul into their project. It is certainly shows that they have had some experience with the issue, and just want to express their personal view of such a big problem – something which is even more commendable coming from a nation which often cannot secure blockbuster budgets. It is just unfortunate that this film doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation.
If you are a war film connoisseur and really take this issue to heart, this is a movie you can freely skip. It’s not particularly bad – you just won’t see anything new or challenging on the subject. If you are just a movie fan and just want to watch a good film however, definitely check this one out. It is still a good film, and gives a lot of insight on a war which even to this day is a subject of debate in Eastern Europe.