Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Last year’s Golden Bear winner in Berlin, Tuya’s Marriage, is a soulmate to this tale of unrequited love on the Kazahkstan steppe, which won the Prix Un Certain Regard at this year’s Cannes. For Tulpan, like its Mongolian counterpart, which told the story of a woman striving to find a second husband, in order to keep her family afloat, shows the economic importance of making a good match and the rigours of life as a nomad. Although, when it comes to the gruelling realities in Kazahkstan, Sergei Dvortsevoy adopts a more documentarian stance, letting the sounds and sights of the steppe tell their own story.

The action centres on Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov). Fresh out of the navy, he returns to his family of shepherds on the steppe, where wind continually whips up the dust, camels bray and his nephew squeals and races around, while his young niece sings. He dreams of owning his own flock, but in order to get one he must first find a wife – the object of his affections being the eponymous Tulpan - and come of age in other ways if he is to be able to embrace this old way of life that is so new to him.

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The film is built on paradox. Asa is a nomad who wants to stay put, despite his friend Boni (Tulepbergen Baisakalov) continually urging him to head for the bright lights of the city. He is a farmer at heart, who has failed to grasp the rigours involved and shows little aptitude for the task, and yet refuses to be cowed by events and slowly begins to learn, as do the audience. Dvortsevoy shows us the fragility of life, through the birth and death of lambs, while also touching on the innate stoicism of those who live in this toughest of environments, where families form the bedrock of subsistence. Lose your ties and the whole enterprise is doomed.

By enclosing the action within the wide-angle documentary lensing of the steppe, Dvortsevoy offers a real sense of place, which complements, but never overshadows, the central narrative. The dusty and wide expanse is in sharp contrast to the homeliness and warmth of the family’s traditional yurt home. Despite the arduous nature of the characters’ lives, there is also a sense of joie de vivre in the playful games of the children, the staggering first steps of a newborn lamb and Boni’s obsession with Boney M’s Rivers Of Babylon.

Within its simple narrative, Tulpan speaks volumes about a complex and threatened way of life.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2008
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A man dreams of becoming a shepherd in the Kazakhstan steppe, but is there room for such dreams in the modern world?

Read more Tulpan reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Sergei Dvortsevoy

Writer: Sergei Dvortsevoy, Gennadi Ostrovsky

Starring: Askhat Kuchencherekov, Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Ondas Besikbasov, Samal Esljamova,

Year: 2008

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Germany, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland

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