Sunday, January 26, 2014

159. Georgian film director Zaza Urushadze’s “Mandariinid” (Tangerines) (2013): A Gandhian perspective on contemporary waves of hate, national and religious

The year 2013 has introduced new talents to the forefront in cinema. 

The Georgian film director Zaza Urushadze can hardly be considered to be a known entity in international cinema. Yet Mr Urushadze has written a witty and touching film called Tangerines, which is an adorable, small-budget film that is superior both in content and quality to the much touted and comparatively big budget films from USA and France made in 2013. What is more, two small brilliant films, Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life (2013, UK/Italy) and Urushadze’s Tangerines, reinforce two thumb rules in cinema—one, talented directors can write their own scripts—they don’t need to lean on professional scriptwriters or adapt their screenplays from successful novels or plays--and two, a positive humanistic tale, interestingly told, will grab a viewer in any corner of the world.  Tangerines is a wonderful film that needs to be viewed and appreciated for its direction, acting and screenplay apart from the general knowledge it provides the viewer about the small nation called the autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, on the shores of the Black Sea, complete with a national flag of the republic that declared its independence in 1992.

A viewer of Tangerines will soon be educated about the war that raged in Abkhazia in 1992. Russia supported the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia by sending mercenaries, as the new Republic wanted to separate from the independent Georgia. The mercenaries that one encounters in Tangerines, are Chechen Muslims. The Georgian soldiers fighting the Chechens are Christian. Caught in the crossfire are some Estonian nationals, whose ancestors relocated to Abkhazia in the late 19th century and have come to love Abkhazia over the period they have lived there, and because of the war are considering returning to the Republic of Estonia where their roots belong. Estonia is another Republic but on the shores of the Baltic Sea way up north in Europe, another Republic which also broke away from the Soviet Union.

Reflecting in the light and the shadows on love and hatred

The film Tangerines has an all male cast; it has no sex and no violence. It is not even a war film. Yet, it is a film that would entertain you from start to finish thanks to the intelligent and witty script. It is perhaps best described as a film on a war of hatred among common individuals. It is not surprising that audiences love the film at all the film festivals where it gets shown.

The plot hinges around an elderly Estonian called Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) who lives alone, in an almost derelict village in Abkhazia.  He has a neighbor Markus (Elmo Nueganen), another Estonian, who has been cultivating tangerines and is now trying to sell a bumper crop of the fruit in the midst of a war to soldiers. Ivo makes wooden crates for Markus to sell his produce. Ivo’s daughter has already returned to Estonia, escaping the war. Evidently, Ivo is reluctant to leave the village where his wife lies buried—the bonds created by passage of time are strong.

Ivo is not the kind of man who would care to be part of either side in the war. He is a humanist. When armed men come to his door with menacing guns, he gladly provides them food when they ask for it.  When one soldier Ahmed (Giorgi Nakasidze) is critically wounded, he gets an Estonian doctor set to return to Estonia to put the soldier, a Muslim Chechen, who was bullying Ivo earlier, on the road to recovery under Ivo's roof.  By a twist of fate, another soldier equally wounded, literally found alive as he was being buried by Ivo after being presumed to be dead, from the opposite camp, a Georgian Christian, is also put on the road to recovery in another room of Ivo’s house. And Ahmed knows that the Georgian in the adjoining room probably killed Ahmed’s buddies.

The film is about the sparks of hatred that fly between the two soldiers.  The two sworn enemy soldiers are kept at bay by their respect and gratitude to their common benefactor, Ivo.

A "war" fought with kindness

Without revealing what happens next in the film, the crucial aspect of the script is the wry humor in the spoken words and body language that makes the viewer forget the Abkhazian war and the conflict of religions. Here, is a film that gets to the core of hatred peeling away layers of mistrust in the company of a well-meaning individual who has no interest in either politics or religion. It is a film that gradually replaces guns with acts of kindness.

Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) loves Abkhazia and its natural produce

At the end of the movie, the viewer will feel positive about life in spite of all the negative forces that we encounter in life throughout the world if we look beyond Abkhazia. It is a small film about a little, big man called Ivo. Tangerines is a film that transcends petty issues and looks at life positively, a rare gift when film directors today seem to be increasingly more at home with aberrant behavior or violence. Here is a Georgian film that introduces an interesting Estonian actor called Lembit Ulfsak. One wistfully recalls it was Estonia that produced one of the finest actors of the 20th century, Yuri Jarvet, who was picked by both directors Grigori Kozintsev and Andrei Tarkovsky to play key roles in their respective major works. And this work of cinema from Georgia is arguably the best work from that country since Tengiz Abuladze made Repentance way back in 1987.

The citation for Zaza Urushadze’s best director award for Tangerines given by the Warsaw film festival  reads “The director of the film succeeded in telling a simple, yet very powerful story in a manner that created a warm, delicate, sweet and sour world. “ Something like the fruit—tangerines?

P.S. Tangerines is on the author’s list of his top 10 movies of 2013. The film won the best director award at the Warsaw film festival and the audience awards at both the Mannheim-Heidelberg and Warsaw film festivals.  The Georgian film Repentance (1987) was reviewed earlier on this blog.


Michelle said...

Where can I find this film? I'm in the US...hoping its available to stream soon?

Jugu Abraham said...


The movie, according to IMDb, has only been released in some parts of Europe, while making appearances on the film festival circuit elsewhere. I got to view it at a film festival last month.

Jugu Abraham said...

Dear Estonian,

Thanks for the historical information. I will modify my review to reflect that fact.

An Estonian said...

To be precise, the Estonians were not forcibly moved or deported to Abkhazia during Soviet times, it was in the late 19th century when some Estonians went there in hopes of getting land to cultivate. (Some also went to Crimean peninsula).
For example, Salme village (Abkhazian: Psou) must be the best known (if I can put it this way, none of them is very large)

Luka From Georgia said...

you can see movie here

Jugu Abraham said...

You can try to see it at

(Link provided by Luka from Georgia, a reader of this blog)

Jugu Abraham said...

The filmmakers of "Tangerines" should be delighted with nominations to the Golden Globes. Eventually it lost out to better and more mature cinema in "Leviathan." Unfortunately, "Tangerines" is going to be up against "Leviathan" once again at the Oscars. I love both films at different levels.

Jugu Abraham said...

The Georgian film "Corn Island" (2014) competing with "Tangerines" (2013) is using the basic plot of the latter film, with a female role added. Both films are on the long short list for the 2015 Oscars. "Tangerines," for me, is the superior work when you compare the two.