The world’s troublespots have always been a lucrative source for screen drama and, occasionally,
sharp comedies.

Lembit Ulfsak stars in a scene from Tangerines.
Lembit Ulfsak stars in a scene from Tangerines.

The Balkans and the Middle East are familiar ground to filmgoers in the West.
The former Soviet Union, like most communist countries, followed Lenin’s edict that film was a powerful propaganda tool. That resulted in a strong tradition of film-making, although little of it appealed to Western audiences.
However, festivals over many years have always featured a mix of bitter satires and close-up views
of hardship in societies that are the flipside of Western consumerism.
Oscar nominations are always a good guide to the best of foreign language cinema, and this year was no exception.
Poland’s Ida and Russia’s Leviathan have already impressed local audiences. Both were made in bleak black-and-white and left no doubt about their quality.
Now it is the turn of Georgia’s Tangerines (Rialto), filmed in the western region of Guria. It comes after the recent release on DVD of another gritty Georgian film, In Bloom (reviewed April 5).
The attractive landscapes and temperate climate make this one of the most attractive regions of
the former Soviet Union. But that’s the least that can be said about this perfectly crafted cameo work.
It is set in Abkhazia, one of two parts of Georgia where separatist populations have used violence to break away.
The time is 1992, when militia groups roved the countryside looking for enemies. In one valley, a
settlement of Estonians have been forced to flee back to their homeland in the Baltic.
But one elderly man (Lembit Ulfsak) has refused to go. He is making boxes for the large crop of
tangerines grown by a neighbour (Elmo Nuganen). They are quietly going about their business, worrying about whether the conflict will affect them.
It soon does, with a shootout near the carpenter’s house between Georgians and separatists.
Several are killed and buried to prevent detection and further reprisals.
But two survive, one from each group, and are given shelter. Because of their injuries, the two have to get along, wondering whose group will be next to invade the quiet valley.
Revenge for the killings is top of mind for the Chechen mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidke) on the
pro-Russian side. The Georgian (Mikhail Meskhi) is more accommodating.
Gradually, all four men get along with their forced co-habitation. The conversations become more cordial, even funny, as the injured men recover. Meanwhile, the viewer learns more about the
ethnic, religious and geographic differences in the wider Caucasus region.
But as the fighters start to sense the same futility of armed conflict as their older protectors, the suspense also deepens.
The climax comes abruptly in comparison with the leisurely pace that writer-director Zaza Urushadze has used to lull his audience.
A bonus is the photography of Rein Kotov, and though all the cast are unfamiliar faces their abilities cannot be faulted.
Like Ida, this is concise filmmaking at its best and a treat for the mind as well as a feast for the other senses.
Rating: TBA; 84 minutes. Subtitled.