Tangerines

Have you heard this one? A Chechen and a Georgian lie wounded in an immigrant Estonian’s house, circa 1992. While in his care, and recovering from a firefight in the front yard, they give him their word not to kill each other. Okay, no, it’s not actually a joke. Not to be confused with Tangerine, singular, the buzzy iPhone-shot festival hit in which “transgender prostitutes go ballistic” (according to IndieWire), this is Tangerines, plural, a quieter if also conflict-attuned outing (and foreign-language Oscar nominee) from Georgian writer-director Zaza Urushadze. Being a heart-on-sleeve humanist, Urushadze doesn’t get into the particulars of the civil war in question, as if not to dignify them. Being also an Eastern European, he very helpfully doesn’t dignify sentimentalism either. Essentially a chamber-drama allegory, with a pleasing if simple structural exactitude, Tangerines takes its title from its setting, a war-defiled grove of citrus trees. It’s powered by casually great, lived-in acting, particularly from Lembit Ulfsak as the old man under whose roof the gruff Chechen mercenary (Giorgi Nakashidze) and his sensitive young Georgian foe (Mikheil Meskhi) find themselves facing off. It may be said that Urushadze belabors his too-basic message about organized human brutality being arbitrary and unnatural. But then again, it is.