Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) in Tangerines (First Run Features)

Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) in Tangerines (First Run Features)

Written and Directed by Zaza Urushadze
Produced by Urushadze and Ivo Felt
DVD released by First Run Features
Estonian and Russian with English subtitles
Estonia/Republic of Georgia. 89 min. Not rated.
With Lembit Ulfsak, Mikheil Meskhi, Giorgi Nakhashidze, Elmo Nüganen, and Raivo Trass

yellowstar In 1992, during the war between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia, the majority of the Estonian villagers living in the contested area have fled back to their homeland. Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) has chosen to stay, building crates to help his friend and neighbor, Margus (Elmo Nuganen), harvest his bountiful tangerine grove. Ivo is finishing up the last of the crates when two Chechen mercenaries fighting for Abkhazia stop by in need of food. Ivo’s calm, yet authoritative, demeanor quickly earns their respect, and all is well as they leave, but it is not long before they return bringing the war to Ivo’s doorstep.

They are fleeing from Georgian soldiers that they have encountered down the road. An exchange of gunfire and explosives leaves all but two dead in front of Margus’s house. Ivo takes the two injured men, one of the Chechen mercenaries and the other a Georgian soldier, into his home and calls for a doctor. With two sworn enemies convalescing under his roof, each bent on revenging the death of his compatriots, Ivo appeals to their sense of propriety, ultimately whittling away at the roles they play in wartime.

Director Zaza Urushadze’s method of delivery is as sensorial as it is cerebral. The dialogue is spare, the story unfolding primarily through close-ups and body language (a testament to the skills of his actors). The damp, gray atmospheric pall that lies over many of the scenes is contrasted intermittently with the golden glow of filtered sunlight, green leaves, and baskets and crates filled with orange fruits. A simple, poignant musical score (Niaz Diasamidze) is sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed.

The strength of Urushadze’s film lies in its quiet understatement. The violence contained in a few skirmishes proves far more powerful than any massive battlefield blood bath. It is Ulfsak’s excellent performance as Ivo, whose bravado is defined by restraint and selfless kindness, that drives Urushadze’s message home. Only compassion can overcome the dehumanizing force of war.