Tangerine: A Christmas in July cinematic gift

A Drama

Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch

Directed by Sean Baker

Sometimes a new movie blows apart every concept you had about what a motion picture can be, and delights and excites you with the ever-growing possibilities of cinema. New attitudes, new concepts, and new technologies combine with a visionary filmmaker, and the result is a rare form of magic.

Sean Baker’s Tangerine has just that sort of magic, making it easily the most exciting and original new film I’ve seen this year. It doesn’t look like any other movie. It doesn’t sound like any other movie. And yet it’s alive with an electric charge of urban humanity and desperate sexuality.

The world of Tangerine is the outskirts of Hollywood on Christmas Eve–a Christmas without carols, Dickens, ornaments, or snow. It could be any time of year, and aside from the strange, wide, ugly streets of LA, it could be any city.

Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from a 28-day stretch in prison. We’re never told what for, but as she’s a streetwalker, we can guess. Her close friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), like Sin-Dee a transgender prostitute, tells her what’s up. Sin-Dee’s boyfriend Chester (who also pimps both of them) may have cheated on her while she was locked up. It’s only a rumor, but it turns Sin-Dee into a single-minded, wrathful avenger out to find the woman who stole her man.

All Alexandra can do is run after Sin-Dee, try to calm her down, and walk away to prepare herself for her singing debut later that night.

But there’s a subplot. Taxi-driver Ramzik (Karren Karagulian) drives people through Los Angeles, talks to his riders, and has to deal with the vomit in his backseat. He’s a husband and father, but he indulges in trans prostitutes like Sin-Dee and Alexandra. He’s the sort of john prostitutes like; he’s gentle, polite, and treats them as friends.

The Ramzik subplot provides us with one of the best sex scenes in cinema, and it’s in no way, shape, or form explicit. Shot from the cab’s back seat, it allows us to imagine what’s going on in the front seat as we watch the through-the-windshield spectacle of a drive-through carwash.

Tangerine looks like no other movie I’ve ever seen, largely I suspect because it was shot entirely on iPhone 5s, using an experimental anamorphic lens to give it a 2.35×1 scope aspect ratio. The colors are intense and super-saturated. And while it lacks the resolution of today’s best digital cameras (not to mention 35mm film), it captures the tarnished glamour of today’s Hollywood in a way that a more conventional (and expensive) approach couldn’t approach.

The film often feels speeded up, just a little too fast, with occasional, tiny jump cuts that suggest lost frames. Since these effects happened only in a few scenes (mostly near the beginning), I’m going to guess that this was intentional.

Maybe it was done to match the music. Music Supervisor Matthew Smith lays down some exciting rap beats to move Sin-Dee’s quest forward. He also lays down some equally exciting Beethoven.

Tangerine is not to be missed. It’s an exceptional and extraordinary work. It’s also an exciting and very entertaining.

And no, I have no idea why it’s called Tangerine. The film opens Friday.

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