Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another BFLF nominee better than the winner: Estonia's spare but rewarding TANGERINES

In the exalted tradition of fine anti-war films, TANGERINES, from filmmaker Zaza Urushadze, proves a major winner. Short (only 87 minutes), crisp, economical yet enormously affecting, the movie details what takes place in and around a tangerine grove in the Apkhazeti region of Georgia, back in 1990, as hostilities break out. Soldiers and the few remaining townspeople come and go, while the movie concentrates on a quartet of characters: the grandfather who owns a small factory in which the titular tangerines are crated, his friend who owns the grove in which they grow, and two soldiers -- from opposing sides.

How these four men come together and dance around each other in an increasingly fraught situation turns into a beautifully acted film of distinction and honor -- both directed and written by Mr. Urushadze, shown at left. It is by turns funny, thoughtful, surprising and extremely moving.

Of the two soldiers, one is a mercenary, which would normally change things from the usual my side/your side conflict -- except that in this case the mercenary has a personal stake in things, as his comrade-in-arms has just been killed by the "other side."

Via a series of plot machinations that seem easily believable given the circumstances, the four men end up together in grandpa's house, where a promise of non-violence is wrested from the mercenary by his host.

The dialog is aces, as are the performances of the four actors involved, the character of each emerging via incidents as much as from words. The musical score is simple and lovely, the direction fluid and smart, and the cinematography good enough to make you want to visit this place (in peacetime, at least).

Amidst the bucolic scenery of the area in which the film was shot, we see the stupid waste of war -- to both the landscape and its occupants. Nothing is baldly stated; it is simply shown. How these men bond, and how, even then, war insists on having its destruction is shown us with immeasurable force and sadness.

With all our best intentions, life -- and chance -- keep intruding, and Urushadze brings this home with poignancy, strength and affection for all. Burying the dead has rarely arrived with such an encompassing sense of waste. Tangerines, like Timbuktu, was one of the five nominees for this past year's Best Foreign Language Film, and both are better than the beautifully photographed but baldly predetermined movie, Ida, that actually won the prize.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films, Tangerines opens this Friday, April 17, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and on the Friday, April 24 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.

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