Tangerines (Mandariinid) (2013) Film. Director: Zaza Urushadze



War in Georgia, Apkhazeti region 1992: local Apkhazians are fighting to break free from Georgia. Estonian village between the mountains has become empty, almost everyone has returned to their homeland, only 2 men have stayed: Ivo and Margus. But Margus will leave as soon as he has harvested his crops of tangerines. In a bloody conflict in their miniature village wounded men are left behind, and Ivo is forced to take them in. But they are from opposite sides of the war. This is touching anti-war story about Estonians who find themselves in the middle of someone else’s war. How do they handle it? How do the enemies act under third-party roof? Written by Annts




The first Estonian film (it is a Georgian co-production) to make the foreign language Oscar shortlist since the country started entering films in 1992, Zaza Urushadze’s humanistic and moving examination of how innocents can be caught up in war – and how choosing sides can be absurd – is fully deserving of the recognition.

It focuses on a corner of of the Caucasus, a place that had been home to Estonian settlements for a century, but where the populace was mostly forced to flee in 1992, when war broke out between Georgia and Russian-backed Abkhazia. The setting could barely look less like the sort of frontline we usually see on movie screens, with its lush green trees, rich browns and tiny settlements, but then, as one character points out, “Cinema is a big fraud”.

It is against this bucolic backdrop that elderly Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak with a wonderfully lived-in performance) lives. The rest of his family are only glimpsed in photographs in the rustic home he occupies alone, while his days are spent in the haze of sawdust, constructing crates to help his friend Margus (Elmo Nüganen) who is determined to collect one last tangerine harvest before he follows the rest of his family and neighbours back to Estonia.

They may not want any part of it but the war comes to their doorstep when a skirmish breaks out on the neighbouring road. The Estonians find an injured Chechen mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidze) and take him into Ivo’s house. When they go to bury the dead, they discover that one of the Georgians (Mikheil Meskhi) is also still alive, though gravely injured. Taking him back to Ivo’s house and putting him in a second room, the stage is set for an examination of conflict in microcosm as the two men gradually get well, while Ivo remains stoically neutral, refusing to allow bloodshed under his own roof.

The title doesn’t just refer to the fruit grown by Margus, it also references the film’s main colour contrast – captured beautifully by Rein Kotov’s cinematography – whether it is the tangerines, shiny against the deep leafy green, the flicker of candlelight as Ivo tends his patients or the sharp orange glow of headlights or a fire in the night.

There is something of the tragicomic humour of Samuel Beckett about the men’s predicament, particularly in the way that Margus and Ivo are waiting for there own sort of Godot – soldiers promised by a local major to help them pick the fruit. Equally, the absurdity of two injured men desperate to kill one another is quickly established, although Urushadze also finds plenty of pathos and poignancy in the situation, as his film shows that the shifting opinion of one or two individuals is not enough to turn the tide of a war. Accompanied by a melancholy but atmopsheric refrain from Niaz Diasamidz, which gives an excellent sense of place as well as adding to the elegiac mood, the film is a great example of how powerful and universal small but well-crafted stories can be.




Coming Home – Gui lai (2014) Film. Director : Yimou Zhang



Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) and Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner, just as his wife is injured in an accident. Released during the last days of the Cultural Revolution, he finally returns home only to find that his beloved wife has amnesia and remembers little of her past. Unable to recognize Lu, she patiently waits for her husband’s return. A stranger alone in the heart of his broken family, Lu Yanshi determines to resurrect their past together and reawaken his wife’s memory. Written by Anonymous




Written by , September 6, 2014


I kept trying to think about what films Zhang Yimou‘s Coming Home reminded me of while watching. Obvious ones came to mind like Away From Her and Amour where Gong Li‘s Yu was concerned and even Atonement for Huiwan Zhang‘s Dandan. But it was a fellow audience member as we walked out who said it best: 50 First Dates. The selection resonated with me because until three-quarters of the way through I thought people laughing were crazy. This is a sensitive drama with heart-wrenching performances. Around act three, though, I began to realize the humor may have been intentional after all.

The film isn’t a comedy by any means, but Yimou isn’t afraid to lighten the mood where his tragic conceit is concerned. During his TIFF North American premiere introduction he states that he hoped the work would expose a world of people to what occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution. And he does exactly that with this subtle humor able to deflect the otherwise severity of what has happened to novelist Geling Yan’s characters. Family patriarch Lu (Daoming Chen) isn’t the only one who ultimately tries to return home—everyone does. The constant is the historical backdrop that broke them apart in the first place.


Adapted by Jingzhi Zou, the story begins with Lu’s escape from political prison after ten years away. He’s barely seen his daughter who’s grown up under Mao Zedong’s regime to hate him for being a traitor to the party’s ways. So just as Yu cannot pass up the opportunity to see the man she loves, Dandan takes his potential return as a chance to get even for what he has done to the family’s name. As a headstrong young girl, temper and jealousy rule until they drive her to make a decision that will tarnish her relationship with her mother forever.

If that seems bleak, it’s only the set-up. Another three-years go by to portray a new China ready to call its political prisoners rehabilitated. While we might initially believe Lu’s legal release to be the titular “coming home,” it proves but one of a trio of examples considering those final years rendered irrevocable changes at home. I don’t believe it’s ruining anything to say that Yu now has a form of amnesia rendering her unable to recognize her husband. So even though he’s home, he isn’t truly. Couple that with Dandan’s exile for a childish mistake of grave consequences, “home” is a much heavier word than its definition.

To say more about the plot would be a disservice because the impetus for Yu’s affliction is meant to hit harder than easy assumptions. Tempering this revelation is the softer side of the second half wherein Yimou embraces the inherent comedy of the situation. Having a woman not know the husband she’s pined for over a decade is fodder for a farce and yet here it is at a time of history where a “win” is in desperate need. You’re therefore allowed to laugh when Yu opens the door a third time on Lu, asking who he is to which he must answer anything but his real name. She wouldn’t believe him anyway because she’s picking him up on the 5th in perpetuity.


Coming Home is a different Yimou then someone I discovered through Hero and House of Flying Daggers, a reassuring notion as it ensures audiences look back at the quieter classics he brought to life earlier in his career. His latest is an effective drama consisting of devastating performances. The need for forgiveness, sacrifice, and compassion on behalf of Yu, Lu, and Dandan is paramount and we must believe them all capable despite the horrific circumstances they’ve lived with during ten-plus years that left the family forever incomplete.

Zhang rises to the occasion and equals two legends in her debut. The role is very similar to Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, portraying her evolution from angry, confused child to humanity’s remorsefully fallible norm. Li will break your heart each time she lashes out thinking her husband is someone she fears and Chen’s sadness is etched onto his tired face throughout. He’s met a moment he imagined would be glorious reunion and found it depressingly unbearable. Love isn’t easily lost, though, so you better bet he’ll embrace becoming a stranger if it keeps Yu close.