Saturday, 2 January 2016

Tangerines, The Second Mother, A Year Ago in Winter: Three Short Reviews of Foreign Films

Alas, I’ve been too busy to write reviews over this past fall, but I’ve still managed to see some good films that have been well worthy of reviews. Here are three short ones: 


Set in the Abkhazian region of Georgia, during one of the local ethnic conflicts that broke out as the Soviet Union fell apart, this simple story follows two Estonian men who have stayed behind after their families returned to Estonia once hostilities erupted. Ivo is a crate-maker, mostly for his friend and neighbour, Margus, who has a large Tangerine grove with a bumper crop ready to be harvested. But the conflict comes right to their doorstep. The result is that Ivo ends up sheltering two combatants healing from their wounds: a Chechen mercenary (fighting for the Abkhazians)  and a young Georgian actor-turned-soldier. They would love to kill each other, but the calm and mature common sense of Ivo restrains them. 

It’s an unusual anti-war film. I doubt it would fare all that well judged on grounds of realism, but it feels more like an engagingly slow-paced, symbolic stage drama trying to ask some very basic questions about humanity and violence. Occasional humour seasons the film and a pleasant, if repetitive, score seemed quite appropriate. To me the tangerines represented the bounty of the earth being ignored and wasted as a result of senseless violence. Ivo and Margus tried to focus on the simple gifts of the land they were placed on. My mug was up high with ****

The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta)

I saw this one on a plane, which is a good thing as I might not have stumbled across it otherwise. It’s a Brazilian film about a live-in housekeeper and nanny who raised a rich family’s son in Sao Paulo while her own daughter felt abandoned in a distant country town. The film explores issues of family and class distinctions with an even-handed skill. Watching it, I felt torn between the pragmatic and submissive acceptance of the hard-working mother and the youthful rejection of her supposed inferior status by the intelligent and inquisitive daughter.

Appropriate nuances and complications are added by the rich man’s interest in the daughter (much to his wife’s deep annoyance) and the housekeeper’s babying of the family son (same age as her own daughter) that she largely raised.

When I was young my aunt worked for a wealthy Winnipeg couple as a live-in housekeeper. My parents (and I) occasionally worked for them as well. This film brought up memories and feelings of what it was like to experience being the child of “servants.” For whatever reason my memory of that was a combination of the two attitudes in the film. I was quite accepting of the role differentiations without questions or hard feelings, and yet I did not experience the class distinctions as anything inherent, creating any limitations whatsoever on my future. Naiveté clearly – though it served me well. The movie helped create a reconsideration of this situation which felt valuable for me. Another mug up high with ****

A Year Ago in Winter (Im Winter Ein Jahr)

This film felt like a slower, European version of Ordinary People (for those of you with long memories -1980). A mother seeks out an artist to paint a portrait of her two children – her daughter (a dancer) and her son who had died the previous year. The artist has a reputation for painting portraits of those who have died and his method for doing this is not unlike a combination of therapist and detective.

It makes for an interesting exploration of family dynamics and grief. It’s not perfect but very watchable. I give it a mugs up and ***+


  1. Just got Tangerines in the mail this week, so will be watching it soon. You may have missed my review of The Second Mother (October 11), which I gave ***+. I was just about to post my reviews of two **** films I watched at the theatre yesterday - but I'll wait.

  2. Just watched Tangerines. I agree with your comments. A dark violent scene notwithstanding, the various levels of humanism and the perfect last five minutes puts Tangerines solidly into **** country from me as well. Two mugs up high.