Tangerine (Baker, 2015)

Tangerine

I don’t really understand the unwavering critical praise. Along with Son of Saul, this is the biggest disappointment of the year vis-a-vis acclaimed cinema. I was a bit skeptical when I heard that it was shot with an I-Phone, but after regularly reading notes on its professional look and technical fortitude, I put aside my qualms. I hit the power button and viewed it as I would any other film, with no expectations and no reservations.

The first thing I noticed is, of course, the saturated colour palette of oranges and yellows, and the high energy jump-cut design of the film editing. At first, I felt that this simply lent the film a degree of energy or vibrancy, a kind of flamboyance or vivaciousness suitable to the characters on screen. To some extent, the energy of the film works in evoking the character’s personalities, especially that of Sin-dee.

But before long the rhythm began to irritate me. Diagonals, canted angles, and reflections are one thing, but when the camera’s depth of focus is distorted from one shot to the next, you don’t inter-cut these shots. I almost had vertigo. It begins with the first scene in the donut shop, but becomes much more obnoxious later in the film, as whip crane or whip pan type movements are used. I have no real idea what equipment allowed these movements, for all I know it was hand operated. But, in any event, these movements are jarring and create a lot of unnecessary digital noise (think lines of colour escaping from light sources). that I suppose was never touched up in post because of the raw look they were going for. There is some speeding up of the image and the frantic design screams immature rather than raw. Frankly, it looks electrified and shrill, especially during the night scenes (ISO sensitivity is up), such as the scene wherein Razmik’s mother-in-law is in the cab with Karo. Frankly the film is aesthetically and rhythmically offensive, with fish eye distortion, overexposure, noise, and scattershot editing. The colour correction is good.

Now if one overlook the film’s aesthetic or if one perceive the film in such a manner that the raw unfiltered nature of the shots and the hyper-edited rhythm/fast motion is engaging, what we have is a rather good story with a genuine tenderness towards the characters. A touching evocation of friendship, the greatest feature of the film is the relationship between Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez). Alexandra turns around when Sin-dee is in trouble, not once but twice, the second time rushing to support her after some asshole throws piss at her. They support each other. On the other end, Sin-dee races to attend Alexandra’s show upon learning that she is late, in spite of her current indisposition. Their friendship is touchingly realized by visual means in the final shot where their hands connect.

Besides this great story of friendship, however, is a rather banal story of a cheating pimp/boyfriend and a somewhat forced merging of the “normal” and “abnormal” in a married Armenian cab driver’s life. Powerful in how it puts to perspective the supposed mainstream way of life (married, children, work, etc) with the alternative lifestyle (prostitution, transgender sexuality, working the streets), the ideas manifest and Baker’s non-judgemental view of the characters are much more affecting than the actual performances or cinematic realization of these ideas. The frantically shot scenes with language shifts and dramatic flair are lacking in a deeper resolve. The feel rather inauthentic and contrived for the purposes of making a point, one which is better in theory and on script than in the film.

63/100 – Decent.

2 Stars

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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