Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tangerines: a beautifully judged character study of conflict and compassion (QFT 18-24 Sept)

Tangerines follows the fate of two men who stay behind in their Abkhazia village after the outbreak of the 1992 war. Their families flee and only those are stubborn or single-minded entrepreneurs stay behind.

Marcus (played by Elmo Nüganen) is obsessed with the potential of his tangerine orchard; Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) is a carpenter and makes crates for the harvest with only pictures of his family to keep him company.

The two farmers’ isolated existence is violently interrupted whenever Chechen mercenaries (fighting with the Abkhazians) come under fire from Georgian volunteers. A headstrong Muslim Chechen called Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and a Christian actor-turned-Georgian soldier Nike (Mikheil Meskhi) survive. Ivo administers first aid and installs them in the bedrooms of his house before finding medical help.

What follows is a beautifully unsentimental study of generosity and grace as Ivo nurses the sworn enemies back to health. He negotiates and polices a truce so the two men will not kill each other while under his roof.

While Ivo plays the role of restrained hero, Marcus has fruit on the brain – imagining that the soldier are fighting for control of his tangerines – and he takes every opportunity to miss the big picture. His reaction to an unfulfilled pledge that local troops would spend a day picking produce is self-centred: “a beautiful crop will perish”.

The film’s sparse soundtrack mirrors the secluded location. A repeated lament marks the end of many scenes. Despite the sleepy locale, the side effects of the conflict are never far away. The tragedy is not yet complete, and the final poignant minutes make the character of Ivo all the more remarkable and beautiful.

Watching the film in Belfast while politicians bicker and rewind eight years of progress, at times the scene around Ivo’s kitchen table felt like we were eavesdropping on DUP and Sinn Féin political negotiations: at first tense and humourless, turning to civility and eventually breaking out into banter, though banter with an edge. If only …

Tangerines is a beautifully judged ethnic character study and a rewarding ninety minutes of cinema. You can catch it at Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 18 and Thursday 24 September.

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