Georgia on My Mind: “Tangerines”

Lembit Ulfsak in "Tangerines"

Lembit Ulfsak in “Tangerines”

One of the highlights of the cultural scene in Minneapolis-St. Paul is the annual International Film Festival.  This year’s festival boasts over 200 films from around the world with a great diversity of themes, styles, and tones.

This last weekend, I was fortunate to see “Tangerines,” a 2014 film that was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar award, and rightly so in my opinion.  The director is Zaza Urushadze, the producer is Ivo Felt, and the main character is played by Lembit Ulfsak.

The film is a joint Estonian-Georgian production.  It takes place in Georgia (the country, not the state) in 1992 when the Abkhazian-Georgian civil war was raging.  (Am I the only one who was unaware of this war???).   If I understand correctly, Abkhazia wanted their own country, separate from Georgia, and I believe the Soviet Union supported Abkhazia’s desire.  To make things more complicated, there was a large Estonian population in Georgia.  They had been living there over 100 years.  After the conflicts broke out, though, most of them fled back to Estonia.

The main character, Ivo, is an elderly Estonian carpenter who lives alone because his family had all returned to Estonia.  He builds crates to hold tangerines and helps his neighbor Markus with his tangerine crop.  One day, there is a shoot-out between the two factions in front of his home.  Some of the men die, but two of them live, although badly injured.  Ivo cares for both of these men—Achmed and Nika—in his home.

If the ethnic conflict were not already confusing enough, it turns out that Achmed, who is fighting on the side of the Abkhazians, is actually Chechen.  He is fighting the Georgians as a mercenary to help support his family.

Most of the film showcases the tensions between the Achmed and Nika, who threaten to kill each other while recuperating in Ivo’s house.  At the same time, Ivo and Markus are just trying to live and worry about how they are going to get the tangerine harvest picked in a timely manner.  The intense focus on a few characters going through mundane daily rituals, punctuated by occasional bursts of military grandstanding and violence, is an effective and deeply moving way to showcase the horrors and ultimate senselessness of war.

Watching the movie, I had no idea who the “good guys” and who the “bad guys” were supposed to be, which I think was the point.  Ultimately, the director is saying, it really doesn’t matter.

The scenery was gorgeous, the music moving, and the acting was superb.  I especially enjoyed the world-weary yet compassionate Ulfsak as Ivo and Giorgi Nakashidze as the hot-headed Achmed.   I am not sure what ever happened with the Abkhazian/Georgian conflict.  From what I can tell in my brief internet research, the conflict is still not totally resolved.

If you have a chance to see this film, I highly recommend it

Zaza Urushadze, Lembit Ulfsak, and Ivo Felt at the Academy Awards

Zaza Urushadze, Lembit Ulfsak, and Ivo Felt at the Academy Awards

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4 thoughts on “Georgia on My Mind: “Tangerines”

  1. Interesting. It fascinates me that combatants think God is on their side, when he is above the fray. When it comes to the people fighting, who started it becomes less relevant. The WWII German soldier fighting on the front did not know his leaders were evil, as they did a good job of hiding that from the view of everyone until it was too late. Thanks for sharing this, BTG

    • It’s easier to see the senselessness of endless fighting when one doesn’t have an emotional investment in either side–as in the Georgians vs. the Abkhazians.

    • Oh, by the way, I wanted to let you know that my university has decided to feature “Half the Sky” as our book of the year next year. Thanks for recommending it to me!

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