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Bruno Dumont Follows Up The Controversial Twentynine Palms With This Tale Of A Group Of Young Soldiers Who Go Off To War And Experience Some Life-changing Events. Flandres Won The Grand Prix Prize At The 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
On the steppes of Kazakhstan, Asa lives in a yurt with his sister Samal, her husband Ondas, and their three children. Ondas is a herdsman, tough and strong. It's dry, dusty, and windy; too many lambs are stillborn. Against this backdrop, Asa, a dreamer who's slight of build and recently finished with a stint in the Russian Navy, tries to establish a life on the steppes. He, his friend Boni, and Ondas call on Tulpan, the only single girl in the area. The men talk to her parents while she listens out of sight. Her answer and Asa's later trips to talk to her form an arc of hope against the harsh land. Is this the place of Asa's dreams? What about the other lambs? Written by
Winner of the Un Certain Regard award this year at the Cannes Film Festival, the fast disappearing world of nomadic sheep herders in Kazakhstan is dramatized in the part fictional, part documentary film Tulpan. Directed by Sergei Dvortsevoy, Tulpan is the story of an ex-sailor seeking to marry the only available woman in the area to fulfill his dream of tending his own flock. The narrative, however, is secondary to the dramatic on-camera birth of a lamb and the spectacular scenery of the steppes. Much of the film takes place in the tent house called a yurt that is shared by Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), his brother-in-law Ondas (Ondasyn Besikbasov), his older sister Samal (Samal Yeslyamova), and three children.
The smallest boy is an absolute delight running and shouting as he plays with sticks and his pet turtle. His older brother has the uncanny knack of repeating the news broadcasts he hears on the radio word for word, reciting recites them daily to a curious Ondas. The only shrill note in the film is the constant high-pitched singing of Asa's niece Maha (Mahabbat Turganbayeva) who sings the same drone-like folk song six or seven times. As the film opens, Asa, his best friend Boni (Tulepbergen Baisakalov), and Ondas visit the family of Tulpan, a young woman whom they want Asa to marry. In southern Kazakhstan, the terrain is so forbidding that a herdsman must have a wife to do the chores while he tends his sheep and Ondas considers Asa too irresponsible and immature to be a herdsman without a wife.
At the family gathering (Tulpan is not present) Asa makes up stories about his adventures in the Russian navy and how he fought an octopus in a life and death struggle. Tulpan's parents, however, are unimpressed and later tell Asa that their daughter (who is never seen in the film) has rejected him because his ears are too big. How she might have known that is not made clear but it leads to a comic comparison of Asa's ears to a picture of Prince Charles. Discouraged, Asa threatens to leave the steppe and move to the city with Boni but is reluctant to give up either his dream of marrying Tulpan or learning about animal husbandry.
As Asa tries to prove himself to Ondas whose herd of sheep is plagued by a series of mysterious deaths, he assists in the birthing of a lamb and meets his severest test. Tulpan is a natural showcase for the region and Cinematographer Joly Dylewska captures the swirling dust and the stark landscape with striking success. One of the best scenes is that of a bandaged camel placed in a motorcycle sidecar by a veterinarian (Esentai Tulendiev) while the mother paces in the background. Not a dry National Geographic Special, Tulpan has ethnic and pop music, adorable children, moments of wicked humor, and an unforced naturalism that is captivating.
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