Dir: Sean Baker. US. 2015. 87mins


Shot on some of Los Angeles’ grungier streets using mobile phones and a mix of pro and first-time actors, Tangerine paints a portrait of transgender sex workers and their clients that pulses with raunchy energy and compassionate humour. It’s a bracing slice of American indie film-making that will further boost the reputation of writer-director Sean Baker – whose 2012 Starlet was a worldwide festival hit — and might prove something of a technical landmark as well.

Captured on iPhone 5S mobiles fitted with prototype anamorphic lenses, this boasts a grainy but highly saturated and surprisingly cinematic look

After its premiere at this year’s Sundance followed by an international debut in Karlovy Vary, the comedy, set for a US theatrical release through Magnolia Pictures on July 10, should get traction with a hip young domestic audience. And festival buzz will give it a chance of breaking out internationally.

The script, by Baker and his Starlet co-writer Chris Bergoch, is set on Christmas Eve in an LA neighbourhood notorious for its underground economy of sex work and drug dealing.

At the centre of the action are best friends Alexandra (neophyte Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (first-timer Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who is looking to call out her pimp boyfriend (James Ransone, from the Low Winter Sun miniseries, as well as Starlet) for infidelity during her spell in lockup.

But the film also follows Armenian taxi driver Razmik (Baker regular Karren Karagulian), a family man who secretly sees Alexandra and pines for Sin-Dee, and glimpses the oddballs who make use of the main characters’ varied services.

The tone starts out brash and funny, showing the protagonists’ world with a mix of matter-of-factness, humour and compassion that’s instantly winning. The momentum lags for a while in the middle act but picks up with some nicely handled changes of mood leading to a melancholic conclusion.

According to press notes, the action was captured on iPhone 5S mobiles fitted with prototype anamorphic lenses. The result is a grainy but highly saturated and surprisingly cinematic look that lends the action a documentary feel and captures southern California’s golden winter light.

Off-centre framing adds to the edginess and good use of music – hip-hop, indie rock and even a bit of Beethoven – provides some nice accents.

Production companies: Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films, Cre Film, Freestyle Pictures Co

US distribution: Magnolia Pictures

Intl sales: Magnolia Pictures, www.magpictures.com

Producers: Darren Dean, Shih-Ching Tsou, Marcus Cox, Karrie Cox

Executive producers: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass

Screenplay: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch

Cinematography: Radium Cheung, Sean Baker

Editor: Sean Baker

Website: www.magpictures.com/tangerine/

Main cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone