Are the “Tangerines” (2014) worth fighting for?

aka “Mandariinid” (original title)

For a clever man every war is lost in advance. Powerful proverb is easily forgotten once the guns start their endless song. “Tangerines” is a movie about the futility of war and the individuals often lost in ideologies. As the quoted proverb implies – there is nothing to gain by fighting over differences which ideologies refuse to overcome. 

Estonian “Oscar” nominee in the category of the “best foreign film” is a powerful movie, slow in pace, focused on the destinies of the smallest men in the war storms of Georgia, Russia and Chechen. In clear opposite to the war movie of the year (“American Sniper”), the emphasis of the “Tangerines” is on the way and not how the war is fought. At the moment of sincerity one character said: “They’re fighting over my tangerines. There’s nothing else here worth fighting for”. It’s the clear mockery of the reasons why the war is fought, tangerines are rotting and nobody is willing to collect them. Reason of the war is lost because of the war itself. Suffering is left to the common people, the ones who are refusing to leave the combat zone for reasons made clear in the end.

Ivo, protagonist of the “Tangerines”, is a carpenter. He makes boxes for the tangerines and stays in the war zone despite of warnings from both sides that the war will inevitably come his way. His friend Margus grows the fruit and don’t want to leave either. Two unlikely characters will be forced to reexamine their views when Niko and Ahmed, two soldiers from the opposite sides, are put into their care. Two people from the conflicting ideologies are in the same house and here the real twist of the “Tangerines” begin. Forced to live with each other, the two will question their reasons for fighting and admit to one another that they’re both people after all. Ideologies often transform enemies into beasts. It’s easier to kill beasts than confront self about killing people. If the enemies are beasts they need to be eliminated. Every war without exception states so . In Ruanda conflict the Tootsi were “the cockroaches” and the animal world has a lot of names. In any other war you choose you’ll find them. The irony is, human at war is the biggest animal of all. It’s easier to kill somebody when he’s transformed into an animal. That point is well made in the “Tangerines”. 

The subject of the movie wasn’t as shocking as expected. I saw something similar in the Russian film “The Cuckoo” in 2002. There, the Russian and the German soldier were saved by the Finnish woman. The plot of “Kukushka” was more interesting to me since the characters didn’t speak the common language and the metaphor of human understanding was even stronger. Of course, that doesn’t diminish the impact “Tangerines” have or the powerful story which is told, but it explains why the movie hasn’t made as strong impact to me as it obviously did to the most of the other critics on the internet. 

The story of the unlikely quartet is slow-paced, predictable and disturbing. “Tangerines” don’t look for surprises, the intention of Zaza Urushadze was to tell us the real story about the futility of war and not some action packed movie in which the just will come out in the end. There is no such war as just war, every war is lost before it begins. One man killed is one man too much. The destinies of the common people are of no concern to the ones who fight. Goodness, however, can be an extraordinary virtue in such times.

Ivo reminds me of Don Quixote and his struggle with the impossible situation is the struggle of the man who is too wise and too old to take any more of this war nonsense. He loathes the hate and desire to kill and he preaches tolerance. His preaching is not based only on his words. His actions backs them up. Niko, (the Georgian soldier) and Ahmed (the Chechen mercenary) will have to analyze themselves and conclusions of that analysis will not necessarily be the ones they like.

“Tangerines” is the powerful movie with the powerful subject. For me, it wasn’t as strong as some of the others I’ve seen (already mentioned “The Cuckoo” or “The Circles” by Srdjan Golubovic) but it’s definitely worth watching.


Rating: 7/10


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