In a rural village of ethnic Estonians in Abkhazia, a Russian-backed separatist region in the newly independent Georgia, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) and his friend Margus (Elmo Nüganen) are the only two of their once large community who have not fled for Estonia after the outbreak of the war. Margus has delayed leaving until he can harvest his lucrative tangerine crop. Ivo, a carpenter, is attempting to make enough wooden crates to hold all the unpicked tangerines, but doesn't reveal his reasons for staying.
Two Chechen mercenaries fighting with the Abkhaz separatists show up and demand food from Ivo before leaving peacefully. However, they get into a firefight with Georgian soldiers in front of Margus' house, leaving only one alive from each side. Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), the surviving Chechen, and Nika (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian volunteer, are both gravely wounded, and Ivo brings them into his home to nurse them back to health.
While both vow to kill each other once they have the strength, Ivo secures a pledge from each to not enact any vengeance under his roof. A great deal of tension ensues between the two enemies as they begin to recover over many days in the same tiny house. Slowly, the two begin to recognize the humanity and honor in each other. Under the moral tutelage of the senior and wise Ivo, the two move from hatred and antagonism, to respect and camaraderie.
When Abkhaz soldiers come to the house, Ivo convinces Ahmed to tell them that Nika is also a fellow Chechen, but whose head wound has left him unable to speak.
After a local military fails to show to harvest the tangerines, Margus is desperate. The Abkhaz soldiers, having set up camp nearby, promises to help harvest the tangerines in two days. That night, however, shelling hits the village, destroying Margus' property. Ahmed offers Margus a large wad of cash that he has made from being a mercenary, but Margus refuses money "made like that".
Russian army troops allied to the Abkhaz and Chechens later drive up to Ivo's house, finding Ahmed outside, and falsely accuse him of being Georgian. They are about to execute him when Nika shoots them from the house with a machine gun. In the firefight Margus is killed. Ahmed and Nika partner to fight the Russians, but Nika is shot dead by a wounded Russian before Ahmed finishes off Nika's killer.
Ivo and Ahmed bury Margus and Nika. Ivo reveals that the Nika's body lies next to that of his own son, who was killed when the war broke out in August 1992. Ivo tells Ahmed had died instead of Nika, Ivo would have buried Ahmed next to his son as well. Ahmed tells Ivo that he misses his own family, and begins his drive home to a Chechnya that will be plunged into a similar bloody war less than two years later.Lembit Ulfsak as Ivo, an elderly Estonian farmer living in Abkhazia. He is a hawk-faced older fellow, who never hesitates; he instantly helps others, regardless of their "side" in this misery.Giorgi Nakashidze as Ahmed, a wounded Chechen soldier, slightly wounded but eager to "kill that scumbag in the next room!" Ivo eventually gets him to promise not to kill Nika unless he steps outside the house.Elmo Nüganen as Margus, a friend of Ivo, another Estonian farmer, the fellow with the tangerine orchard. He wants to make this sale so he can join his family in Estonia.Mikheil Meskhi as Nika, a wounded Georgian soldier, a Christian with shrapnel in his head. His hatred for Ahmed is every bit as venomous.
The film received an 85% rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 54 reviews, with an average score of 7.3/10, and with the critic consensus being: "Tangerines' impassioned message and the strong work of a solid cast more than make up for the movie's flawed narrative and uneven structure."