Though generally categorized as a war drama, the newest picture from Georgian director Zaza Urushadze only uses war as a background to its moralizing and mightily effective story. There is a war, but it takes place within one household and is fought with words not weapons.
Tangerines takes place in 1992 in a small village during the infamous War In Abkhazia, in which the mentioned country is trying to separate itself from Georgia. Only two men live in this secluded place, Ivo and Markus, Estonians whose daily lives consist of picking tangerines from the trees, in order to sell them later and earn money that will help them get back to Estonia and survive the war.
One day, just in front of their homes, a fight ensues. After it's over, it seems that the only survivor of the deadly battle is Ahmed, a Chechen mercenary on a mission to keep Georgians out of the Abkhaz soil. The two villagers take the wounded man home and decide to bury the rest, but suddenly, in the middle of the burial, they realize that there is another survivor - a young Georgian soldier. They place him under the same roof with Ahmed. What follows is an intense and intelligent, but also spot-on hilarious, bloodless war between two fierce enemies, all the more engaging due to the fact that although there aren't any effective explosions or gunfights, the splendidly story knows how to keep the blood pumping.
Tangerines is filled with many unexpected laughable situations and amusing taunts, but at the same time has some intense scenes that remind the viewer of the war that takes place off screen, and a few heartbreaking moments that may easily bring tears to one's eyes. But the most important aspect of the whole scenario is the bonding between all the characters. Under Ivo's watchful eye, the two enemies gradually become close to each other when they finally recognize the true power of compassion and kindness. It takes time, but after lots of insults and death threats the two men begin to see that prejudice against people is only a fictitious creature made by hatred and it can be quickly defeated by opening one's mind to new experiences.
The moralizing side of the whole story might seem simple, yet the way it's delivered through that really well-written script is imaginative and profoundly touching. By seeing the enormous change that the characters go through in those tough times, one might actually ponder the true meaning of humanity as a entirety, without any boundaries caused by such trivial matters as different nationalities, races or religions. It's actually quite fascinating to observe how universal the story really is, and how easily adaptable to all sorts of flash points in our hate-ridden world.
The premise is interesting, but the final effect is truly stunning. Honestly, I consider Tangerines to be the most captivating European feature I saw during Warsaw Film Festival this year and it should definitely be screened in more countries. By the time I finished the review, I knew that Zaza Urushadze won the festival's best director award, which is well deserved considering how his visionary approach to a hard and controversial topic made the movie an enormously enjoyable treat.
Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer