Before Sean Baker’s Tangerine became one of my new Christmas classics, an Estonian film became the first foreign language nominee in the country’s history with the Chechen war-looming drama Tangerines. In Zaza Urushadze’s story of conflicting cultures–Estonians, Georgians and Chechen–the ever under seige Chechen region is about to reach wartime between the Georgians and Chechen mercenaries likely working for the aforementioned Russians.
Following a roadside battle, crate maker Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak serving Christopher Lee realness), separated from his family who have already vacated the region, and Chechen tangerine farmer Margus (Elmo Nüganen) save the lives of two of the soldiers. The Chechen Muslim Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and a Georgian Christian named Nika (Mikheil Meskhi) are ordered by Ivo that their war to be left outside of him home. Protecting the pair from the nationalist fury radiating through the region, Ivo maintains his position of neutrality in this conflict that is not his. He never quite reveals why he did not leave, claiming he is happy in Chechnia, but there is a hidden pain behind his commitment to staying and his reluctance to reveal details about his lovely granddaughter who is displayed on his mantel. A family history with the instability of the region could keep him tied to this dangerous area; a lack of desire to rebuild back in Estonia and a dread of leaving this past behind.
Ulfsak demonstrates a man trying to piece himself back together while keep these healing men at bay. When discussing his own son’s death in a previous war, the Chechen Ahmed tries to push at the significance of his son’s death at the hand of a Georgian soldier, so why does he still care for Nika. Ivo’s reponse: “What does it matter?” The past is the past, and begrudging an entire society, or even a soldier from the same army, produces no benefit. He surely wishes to see all of the fighting to stop; it is the fighting in fact that caused his son’s death, not the individual soldier when it is boiled down. Nationalist fury is spreading through the world, and the blind hatred found in this anti-immigrant, xenophobic bullshit is only piling on the pain for all those involved. Tangerines grows to be a story of understanding as much as a story of grieving. Paired with Russia’s Leviathan, Poland’s Ida (winner), Argentina’s Wild Tales, and Mauritania’s Timbuktu, 2014 foreign films were stellar examples of the wild world of film.