In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s the kind of movie that I want to encourage everyone to see, but I don’t want to give any specific reason of why. Because I really don’t want to spoil a single thing or a create a single expectation.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“Killing a sleeping man, when he is unconscious, is that a sacred thing too? I didn’t know.”
Watching more foreign movies in 2016 was originally inspired by me wanting to be exposed to more film makers. But the more I watch, the more I realise that one of the real joys is being exposed to different cultures and views of history. I know that exposure might seem obvious, but I started this year of foreign films thinking more about how films were made, not what or who they were about. And it’s what and who Tangerines is about, that made it so intriguing and great.
To paraphrase the opening title card, for more than a century, there have been Estonian settlements in the Caucuses, part of Estonia. In the early 90s, war between Georgia and Abkhazia in the region saw the Estonians return home to their ancestral homeland in Northern Europe. While their friends and families have left long ago, Estonians Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and Margus (Elmo Nuganene) have stayed for one last, lucrative harvest of Margus’ tangerine orchard.
One day, two Chechen mercenaries, fighting for the Abkhazia side, come across the home of Ivo, where he gives them food and drink before sending them on their way. Minutes later gunfire breaks out and Ivo emerges from his home to see two destroyed vehicles and five bodies, the two Chechens and three Georgians. Only, not all of them are dead. One of the Chechens (Giorgi Nakashidze as Ahmed) and one of the Georgians (Micha Meshki as Niko) have survived, while both being seriously injured. With no allegiance to either side, Ivo and Margus take them in, and help them recover, despite both soldiers swearing their hatred for the other. Ahmed even declaring his intention to kill Niko the second he is away from the protection of Ivo’s home.
I’m not really sure where to start with Tangerines, other than to say I loved it and it kind of floored me. There’s really nothing more to the story than what I described above. Sure, that’s just the first act, the setup. And it never went anywhere unexpected from there on a plot level. But there’s something about the performances of the four key men that made the impact immense, even when I knew where things were headed.
Ahmed should be a one dimensional bad guy. A mercenary with a lust for blood and revenge. But everything he does and every decision he makes is understandable and even something to sympathise with, even when it seems wrong at first glance. Niko’s anger and frustration with Ahmed, while trying to respect all the good done buy Ivo and Margus, makes it understandable when he does snap and forget that respect in the odd heated moment. The hope in Margus’ eyes, the sometimes reveals that deep down, he knows the harvest, and survival that comes with it, probably won’t happen.
But the real MVP is Lembit Ulfsak as Ivo. He might be humble wood worker who lets Ahmed call him “grandpa” and “old man”, but Ahmed (and the viewer) believes it when he threatens his house guests with the consequences they will face at his hands if they violate their truce under his roof. And I totally bought his sadness that fuels his neutrality and disgust for this war, long before the reasons for it are revealed.
Tangerines was such a rewarding movie experience to go into with no prior knowledge or expectations, that I kind of feel bad about anyone who may have made it this far in my review without yet seeing it. It’s the kind of movie that I want to encourage everyone to see, but I don’t want to give any specific reasons for why. Because I really don’t want to spoil a single thing or a create a single expectation. I want other people to have the same experience I did.