Filmed entirely on an iPhone 5s, Tangerine is so much more than a novelty. It’s an experiment in filmmaking with truly astonishing results. Taking place within the oddly sunny Christmas Eve streets of California, the film tracks Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a trans female sex worker just released from a twenty eight day prison sentence. She meets her friend Alexandra (played by Mya Taylor, also transgender) at a donut shop and she’s informed that her boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a cisgender woman, Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan). Sin-Dee is a kinetic tour-de-force of rage and rebellion as she storms out of Donut Time to hunt the “fish” that’s been sleeping with her man. Meanwhile, we’re shown a married Armenian taxi driver (Karren Karagulian) with a liking for trans sex workers, whose story eventually becomes entwined with Sin-Dee’s, amounting to an enchanting, brash farce, hilarious and striking.
You quickly forget it’s filmed on an iPhone, just because it looks so good. Perhaps the restrictions in equipment force the filmmakers to try even harder to find interesting angles and creative uses of light to make such a visually rich film. Director Sean S. Baker really does prove how we are all potential filmmakers, using his limits to his advantage. For example, there’s a shot of Sin-Dee sitting at a bus stop with the phone camera neatly positioned behind her head and we get the point of view of (presumably) real people getting off the bus and looking at the camera curiously and it looks like they are staring at her which must reflect the feeling of being trans.
Tangerine juxtaposes the artificial Christmas spirit amidst California’s pink, winter warmth with the raw emotions of its characters. Its two leads, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor ,had no major acting experience prior to this film, having met Baker at a California LGBT centre in 2013. They have a natural screen energy, furious and eccentric. Between them they have such a clear, strong chemistry, a shared energy and experience which makes their friendship feel true. The whole film is played at a high octane, with shots often speeded up to add to the sense of neon artificiality, the whole film glowing with sunset radiance.
Review by David Rank
Running time 88 mins.