Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tangerines (orig. Mandariinid) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing* listing* listing* listing* listing* listing*

ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A. Nayman) review (L. Boyce) review (J. Zelman) review (R. Puust) review* (L. Järjehoidja) review* review* (U. Mehdi) review*
Filmske Recenzije (S. Stajić) review* (M. Gürgen) review (D. Akçadoğan) review*

Estonia - - viewer reviews*
Georgia - viewer comments*
Russia - viewer comments*
Russia - viewer comments*
Russia - viewer reviews*
Russia - viewer comments*
Czech Rep - viewer reviews*
Poland - viewer reviews*
USA - viewer reviews

Tangerines (orig. Mandariinid) [2013] [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*[]*[]*, "small" film though it is, is probably the most thoughtful reflection on the the tragedy / futility and stupidity of war to come out in a generation.  A joint Estonian/Georgian project, written and directed by Georgian director Zaza Urushadze [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*[]*[]*, it was submitted by Estonia as its entry to the Best Foreign Language Film competition at the 2015 Oscars and became Estonia's first film ever to make the final list of five nominees.

The film tells the story of the beginnings of the 1992-93 Abkhazian-Georgian Conflict in The Caucasus from the perspective of two older ethnic Estonians -- Ivo (played by Lembit Ulfsak [IMDb] [CEu] [EFIS]*[]*[]*) and Margus (played by Elmo Nüganen [IMDb] [EFIS]*[]*[]*) -- who had the misfortune of living in the disputed region. 

Now what were two "older ethnic Estonians" doing living in The Caucasus some 1000 miles from their ethnic homeland?  That's left unexplained but the assumption is that they along with the rest of the Estonian residents of the village where they lived were deported there after Stalin retook Estonia (which had enjoyed a two decade long period of independence between WW I and WW II) as part of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact [en.wikip] [et.wikip]*[pl.wikip]*, which divided-up Eastern Europe between Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence and allowed Hitler to invade Poland without fear of Soviet response (indeed, the Soviet Union invaded Poland as well, arguably as Hitler's ally, taking the Eastern half to two-thirds of the country, before invading Finland as well as the the Baltic states in the succeeding months.  Yes, Stalin was a B ...)

Excellent recent movies (all reviewed on this blog) about the Stalin-era deportations of Poles as well as the residents of the Baltic states are the Polish film Siberian Exile (orig. Syberiada Polska) [2013], the Lithuanian/Russian co-production The Deportee (orig. Ekskursantė) [2013] and the Estonian film In the Crosswind (orig. Risttuules) [2014].

In the current film, most of Estonian residents of the (artificial...) Estonian village "nestled in The Caucasus," _apparently_ left for Estonia as soon as (1) Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and (2) the conflict began between Georgia which ALSO regained its independence at the same time and the ethnically distinct Abkhazian region of that country (Abkhazia's amalgamation to Georgia was arguably a relic of the Soviet Era as well, either that or a relic of past Georgian imperialism ...).

So why did these two "older ethnic Estonians" _remain there_ in this artificial Estonian village in The Caucasus?  Margus just wanted to harvest the tangerine crop on his _apparently_ newly acquired land (back in Soviet days, his orchard would have almost certainly been part of a Collective ...) and Ivo, a carpenter, stayed with him, making the crates for the tangerines.  That Margus apparently acquired the land (or it simply "fell to him..." after the other residents left for Estonia) suggests that he would have made a go of staying there in The Caucasus if not for the conflict that was beginning around them.  As it is, he at least wanted to harvest that year's crop so that it would not have been a total loss.

But alas, the War does come ... first in the form of two Chechen mercenaries, Ahmed (played by Giorgi Nakhashidze [IMDb] []*[EFIS]*[]*) and his "brother-from-the-village (in Chechnya)" Ibrahim, who at the beginning of the film come by Ivo's workshop to shake him down for some food/supplies.  Ivo keeps his composure throughout, even as he certainly knows that he could be shot-dead at anytime by the two Kalashnikov-wielding fighters.  At the end of the encounter, Ahmed thanks Ivo for the food and tells him to "keep on a lookout" because "others" who may pass through "may not be as kind" as they were ... yeah, right.

A "close call" seems to have been averted, 'cept ... a few hours later, there's an explosion, then number of spurts of automatic gun fire.  After it subsides, Ivo goes to check what happened.  Some ways down the road from his house/village there was an altercation between Ahmed / Ibrahim in their jeep and a five Georgian soldiers in a van.  One or the other car had hit a mine.  Ibrahim as well as the five Georgians were dead, Ahmed lay wounded in the leg.

Ivo helps Ahmed limp back to his home, then seeks-out Margus to help him bury Ibrahim and the five Georgian soldiers.  As they are about to bury them all, Margus notices that one of the Georgians, a soldier named Nika (played by Misha Meskhi [IMDb] []*[EFIS]*[]*), while unconscious, was still actually breathing.  So they carry him back to Ivo's house as well ...

So, in Ivo's house are now both the Chechen fighter Ahmed and the Georgian soldier Nika.  Ahmed was swearing vengeance against the killer of his "childhood friend/brother" Ibrahim.  But at least initially he could not really walk, and Nika, since he was initially unconscious, could not really talk.  So Ivo placed Ahmed in one room and then put Nika surreptitiously in another.  But how long could that last?   The rest of the movie follows ... ;-)

This really is a great story ... and (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) it OBVIOUSLY doesn't play-out in the simplest way:

Ahmed does not just kill Nika as soon as he finds out that he's in the house.  In fact, Ahmed promises Ivo that he WON'T DO THAT because IVO was providing HIM (Ahmed) HOSPITALITY and HOSPITALITY was SACRED "to his people" (the Chechens).  Nika, the Georgian, eventually awakens as well ...

So there are two distinct "conflicts" that are playing out / negotiated in this film.  The first is simply in Ivo's house.  He's got both a Chechen mercenary and a Georgian soldier (both wounded, both in some need of his help) in his house.  And then there's the conflict "outside."

This is a wonderful, thought provoking film!  And IMHO probably the best reflection on the tragedy of War since at least MASH.

Consider simply that in that house, of Ivo's, are two Estonians, a Chechen and a Georgian, all arguably victims of Russian imperialism and yet ... THE ONLY WAY that they can communicate / MAKE PEACE with each other is ... in Russian.  Wow!  Brilliant, sad, profound.

And certainly, one heck of a story!

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