Reviews - Tangerines
Reviewed By Vaughan Ames
Nominally an Estonian film, it is set in Georgia in 1992 when a civil war broke out between the Georgians and the Abkhazians; what has this to do with Estonia? There have been Estonians living in Abkhazia since the mid-1800s, rising in numbers after the Second World War when Russia forced many Estonians to leave their homes. There were nearly 2500 Estonians in Georgia as a whole, nearly 1500 of them in Abkhazia, when Abkhazia decided to fight for independence. Most Estonians decided to go to Estonia at this point, but a few remained.
It is these few that form the basis of this film. We join Ivo in his shed where he is making boxes to hod his neighbour Margos' tangerine crop – they have both remained behind to attempt to gather this lucrative crop before the war hits the area. In this they are unlucky; 2 soldiers arrive in a jeep demanding food and Ivo realises they haven't got long.
Later, Ivo hears an explosion and finds the same jeep crashed into Margos' fence and a burnt out van next to it. He and Margos rescue the wounded driver of the jeep – Ahmed (a Chechnyan mercenary fighting on the Abkhazian side) – and go to bury the Georgian soldiers in the van when they realise that one of them – Niko - is alive too.
Ivo now has two injured soldiers in his house who want to kill each other. He keeps the peace by appealing to their honour – an imprtant factor in the area, it seems: they promise not to kill each other in his house. We watch them both recovering slowly, gradually becoming less agressive as they learn a bit about each other.
Two groups of Abkazian troops come by the house. In the first visit, Ahmed agrees to pretend Niko is on their side to save his life (he wants to kill him himself). The second visit results in the Abkhazians opening fire, killing Margos by accident. At this point Niko starts to fire back and Ahmed takes his side, shooting the troops between them. Unfortunately for Niko, one is still alive and shoots him dead when he approaches their vehicle.
The whole pacifist message of the film is rammed home when we find out the other reason Ivo has stayed here and not returned to Estonia with his family: his son was killed at the start of the war. We see Ivo and Ahmed bury Niko next to Ivo's dead son and Ivo tells Ahmed he would have buried him there if he had been the survivor. Ahmed decides to go home to his family rather than continue the war he no longer believes in.
The message is made somehow much more realistic than it could have been by Niko's death; they didn't all become good friends as looked unrealistically possible at one point. Instead we see two men who have realised the futility of all the killing by their own experience. Mix that message with some great acting and photography and you can see why it was so liked.
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