Big-Hearted Indie Tangerines Stands Up to War by Harvesting Fruit


Small in scale if huge in heart and scope, Tangerines uses four characters to limn the religio-nationalistic hostilities unleashed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992. But what a foursome! Or, actually, make that what a one.

Tangerines‘ lead, renowned Estonian actor Lembit Ulfsak, is cool-headed, even witty at times as Ivo, curtailing violence between two wounded, vengeance-driven enemies: Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Muslim Chechen mercenary for Abkhazia; and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Christian separatist on the Georgian side.

Admonishes Ivo, “No killing in this house.” Maybe he should hire on at the U.N. Other ethnic Estonians were driven off the land, but Ivo is sticking it out in his farmhouse, helping a neighbor (Elmo Nüganen) harvest his tangerine crop as they “race to pick against the coming war.”

But they have to deal with the dead and injured after a nearby firefight. With his carpentry-honed hands, Ivo nurses and cooks, despite armed trucks arriving and suddenly shattered windows — jittery juxtapositions against a gorgeously photographed countryside. Interior scenes focus theater-like on the dining room table-as-vortex: Threats and insults whip about, but, finally, so do forays of friendship.

Writer-director Zaza Urushadze’s film was this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar entry from Estonia (Ida won), though it is billed, in the spirit of the movie, as an Estonian-Georgian production. It’s a non-preachy peace declaration: Nothing is worth fighting and dying for, not even tangerines.