A war fable set on the Estonia/Georgia borders in 1992 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Tangerines **** was a surprise Oscar nominee earlier this year, and well-deserved so it proves.
Our main characters are an elderly Estonia carpenter Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak – a ringer for Jeremy Corbyn, as it happens) who makes crates in his woodshed and his friend Margus who picks and grows tangerines to put in them. They’re the only two people left in a village as warring factions close in.
After a skirmish, the two peasants are left caring for a Chechen mercenary and young Georgian soldier who, despite both being wounded and convalescing in adjoining bedrooms of Ivo’s modest cottage, want to kill each other.
Gradually, the characters – they’re joined by a doctor – chat and discover their share humanity before the madness of war again shatters their brief peace.
It’s a very humane piece, gently warming and comic, directed with precision and pace by Zaza Urushadze. As the farmers push a burned out truck off a hill to hide it, they stare blankly. “I thought it would explode,” says one. “Only in the movies,” says the other. “Cinema is a big lie.” Yet sometimes, as here, it can get right to the universal truth.