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Thread: TANGERINE (Sean Baker 2015)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    TANGERINE (Sean Baker 2015)

    Sean Baker: Tangerine (2015)


    Dark and sordid turns bright and beautiful (and funny)

    Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from 28 days in the clinker. She is a transgender prostitute, like her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Returning to her turf of the seedy blocks around Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd. in L.A., she is incensed to find her pimp and main squeeze Chester (James Ransone) has two-timed her with a certain (born female) Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan) and she sets out to get revenge on Dinah and make Chester answer for this. Meanwhile, married Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) has a taste for the "girls" and is carrying motley fares and cruising the nabe. It's Christmas Eve. For some time the movie oscillates between the trans girls and Razmik; eventually they find Chester and all meet, and sparks fly, but it's all good.

    This is the substance of Tangerine, the new movie from Sean Baker and writer Chris Bergoch. Their genial, humorous outlook, and the cast's energy and drive, are part and parcel of how this ostensibly sordid material becomes cheery, painless, sad too, but a little heartwarming. The mood is augmented by the movie's s look, which comes from being shot, on a low budget, but by an innovative team, on iPhone5's, with new anamorphic lens attachments loaned to the filmmakers by their inventors, an outfit called Moondog. The handsome, fisheye and widescreen images that resulted were processed to brighten the colors with warm yellowish tinges. Rose-colored glasses, if you like. And the music enhances too. It's a mix of Trap, with energetic, slightly menacing overlays of metalic rhythm, and quick interludes of synthy whine and classical. The visual effect and the sonic glow are what stays with me, and Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Chester and the Armenian guy, and his plump, ethnic mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian), who tracks him to the Donut Shop that's Chester's place of business (he deals drugs too) and is a central venue of the action.

    There's also an image of the depressing, overcrowded brothel room in a criminal motel where Sin-Dee finds Dinah and drags her out. Another moment to remember is when all is said is done and the girls have had it out, Dinah pathetically straggles back to the motel brothel door only to be told she's been replaced. Dinah is as hangdog and white as Sin-Dee and Alexandra are multicultural and spirited.

    The impression of Tangerine, for me, is of the utterly sordid seen through such humane eyes and presented in such a colorful and sprightly package that it becomes warm, humorous, forgiven, and human. I can't say I am moved or profoundly impressed. We don't get the kind of sympathy and emotional power the likes of Hector Babenco or Satyajit Ray, instinctively, almost effortlessly, might provide. Well, Tangerine simply seeks something else. It's nasty and vernacular, trash-talking and American.

    Critical reactions nonetheless are enthusiastic. They range from the barely at all judgmental hyping of Justin Chang for Variety to Mike D'Angelo's much more reserved review in a January Sundance bulletin for The Dissolve (now itself sadly dissolved). D'Angelo found the two girls, and the visual style, far too in-your-face. He balked at the excessive use of the word "bitch" (and needless to say there is a plethora of F-words).

    But he found that "Over time. . . these passionate, street-smart whirligigs grew on me, and by the end I was surprised by how fiercely protective of their fragile happiness I felt." He never reached the point of caring about Razmik and is not alone in thinking the Armenian and his family are an irrelevancy cut in to keep the action from seeming "too ping-pongy." True. But Razmik's yammering mother-in-law reminded me of the hilarious Polish female relative in Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. Foreign language, subtitled but strange, turns moral outrage into a harmless obligato: she's essential to Baker's genial effect. D'Angelo admits he didn't like the girls at all at first, or relate to them ever, but concludes it didn't matter one bit. This movie's function is to win you over. This is why Chang's review does it a disservice, because he never admits it's a challenge at first to care. Tangerine is like a warm puppy that has stepped into something icky, but when it cuddles up and you begin to pet it, you forget the stink.

    Tangerine, 88 mins., debuted at Sundance and showed at over a dozen additional US and international festivals. It opened in US theaters 10 July 2015. Opens 17-18 at Landmark theaters in San Francisco and Berkeley.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-12-2015 at 12:51 AM.


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