6 tangerine

I’m tempted to name Tangerine as the boldest film of the year, although not really for the reasons that might immediately seem the impetus for that praise. Yes, the film gives its primary focus to a pair of transexual women of color (Mya Taylor and Kitani Kiki Rodriguez), both sex workers in Los Angeles, with a side consideration of the Armenian diaspora in the same city. Across the board, these aren’t communities or topics that most filmmakers, even those who are proudly independent voices, are especially anxious to address. Yet, the immersive view of these populations isn’t what makes the film most distinctive, even though director Sean Baker deserves a tremendous amount of credit for developing his central characters beyond their traits. The film isn’t about their identities as trans women. Instead, it informs everything they do and are more casually, in the same way that anyone’s sense of identity is integral to their actions. Their beings don’t define them, even as they are critical to understanding them. As a cisgendered, white male, and therefore the accidental beneficiary of society’s boundless comfort with those who fit into the power structure constructed with girders of so-called normalcy, Baker comes at the environment with the empathy of an outsider, duty-bound to report what he sees with honesty and care. The true boldness of the film is in the particulars of its creation, most apparently in the decision to shoot the production entirely on iPhones, a choice that smacks of gimmickry but yields great intimacy without compromising visual quality. The cinematography, co-credited to Baker and Radium Cheung, is every bit as voluptuous as Robert Richardson’s 70mm snowscapes in The Hateful Eight or fiercely striking as Roger Deakins’s blistering border views in Sicario. Maybe more than any other aspect, it is the blazing energy of the film that distinguishes it the most. Bounding forward in a way that mirrors the perpetual hustle for personal safety and emotional sanctity of those it depicts, Tangerine is more intensely alive that most films. That also makes it all the more effective when the film finally slows down toward the end, allowing for a moment of piercing tenderness that is well earned. Baker’s film, then, finds its strength just like its characters do: by fearlessly, insistency adhering to the most resonant inner truths.

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