Mandariinid, known as Tangerines in the US, is a thought provoking Estonian anti-war film set in the early 1990s.
An Estonian elder named Ivo has stayed behind in the Apkhazeti region of Georgia despite the advancement of the war around him. Most Estonians have left the region for their homeland. Ivo remains, helping his friend Margus, who is staying to harvest a large crop of tangerines.
With the battle between Georgians against the Abkhazian side closing in around them, their homes become caught in the crossfire that leaves two surviving fighters from opposing sides badly hurt but alive. Opposed to the brutal siege and futility battle, Ivo takes both men into his home to nurse them both to health. As they recover, the tension and desire for vengeance returns. Vowing to respect Ivo’s home, and refrain from shedding blood under his roof, they resume the animosity with a verbal onslaught, opening a dialogue to compare their similarities as members of humanity.
There is something about the film Tangerines (Mandariinid) that is immediately unnerving, which must be a deliberate decision from the writer and director Zaza Urushadze for this obviously anti-war film. The perilous reality of war in what is supposed to be a safe and tranquil countryside sets a looming tone of dread. Certain shots and scenes seem to foreshadow imminent malicious actions between the characters and that the film will simply not end well. In Urushadze forcing the viewer to feel unease he simultaneously forces the viewer to become engaged and invested in the characters and their story immediately.
Initially I did not want to watch this film. The summary gave me great anxiety and, quite frankly, I watched enough war films and there is enough war going on in the world that I felt I reached my threshold. Luckily, Tangerines is not really a war film and is, in fact, far more broad of an intellectual examination regarding wartime, and the nonsensical nature of it all within the tangible confines of the film. Further, in being more philosophical, the film allows almost any viewer to relate and take a message from it. You don’t need to know about the region or the specifics regarding the War in Abkhazia to understand its sentiment and intentions.
Tangerines is a beautiful gem of a film that feels more like a play, and unfortunately they do not make films like these anymore. The setting of the story is rather small, almost constrained to the small quarters of Ivo’s quaint home. There is a minimal quantity of characters and the plot resides in the simple but thought-provoking dialogue exchange between these disparate individuals. The relationships between the characters are complex, distinct and fully-formed and compelling, thanks in part to the acting of Lembit Ulfsak, Misha Meskhi and Giorgi Nakashidze.
Though the film is about war, and the war never truly dissipates entirely to the background, there is a dry humor to the film. In its simplicity and clear vision, Tangerines succeeds in examining extremely complicated and tense subject matter with a heart felt and resonating effect.