Amid the onslaught of star-studded dramatic films which typically flood awards season, it’s always the foreign category which keeps us in check, opening our eyes to other troubles in the world. Estonia’s submission to the Academy Awards this year, Tangerines, spotlights the disputed territory of Abkhazia, specifically 1992, when the Georgian government, separatist forces and Russia were embroiled in a bitter war. The film was shown Wednesday as part of AwardsLine’s screening series, hosted by Deadline’s Dominic Patten, with Tangerines director Zaza Urushadze and producer Ivo Felt in attendance.
Tangerines follows two Estonian men who live in an Abkhazian village: Ivo, a carpenter (Lembit Ulfsak), is building crates for his citrus farmer neighbor (Elmo Nüganen). Despite the ensuing battle in their region, the two won’t flee until they’ve picked their fruit. However, the peaceful Ivo soon finds himself nursing a wounded Chechen soldier, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), and his adversary, Georgian fighter Niko (Mikheil Meskhi). The two would prefer to cut each other’s throats, but not on Ivo’s turf, who insists peace. The Russians soon show up, and well, events get out of hand.
One Academy voter at Tangerines exclaimed during the Q&A, “It reminds me of (Jean Renoir’s) Grand Illusion, about the absurdities of war and the definition of why an enemy is an enemy.”
Speaking about using the Abkhazian War as a backdrop in Tangerines, Felt explained, “For Georgia, the war is a hot topic. They are warriors, where in Estonia, we are peaceful. Abkhazia is a territory that is important to preserve and keep independent.” The territory of Abkhazia is situated between the Black Sea on the east and Georgia on the southeast. Abkhazia is recognized as an independent state by Russia, but Georgians, the United Nations and a majority of countries consider Abkhazia as a part of Georgia.
“It’s a war that was initiated by the big brother living next to us,” adds Felt, “It’s really an idealistic film. We can only hope that both sides see this film and can (learn to) live together.”
Urushadze wrote Tangerines in two weeks and shot it in 52 days, filming in Guria, Georgia. The film marks the first co-production between Georgia and Estonia, with Urushadze being Georgian and Felt from Estonia. The film in many ways displays the best in theater, exuding the relationships between a group of men in a single location, a farm house. Further heightening the film’s intense conversations are its overcast exteriors, shot in natural light — a tonal maneuver quite similar to DP Emmanuel Lubezki‘s in Terrence Malick’s Pocahonatas 2005 epic The New World.
The film, in its illumination of the Abkhazian battle, reminded the packed house last night of another conflict in its hemisphere between Russia and Ukraine.
Said Felt, “Zaza and I had a conversation about this today. Living next to Russia, we both think it’s hard for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to step back. We are all following the situation very seriously.”
Below is the trailer for Tangerines: