Film review – Tulpan (2008)

Asa (Askhat Kuchencherekov)
Asa (Askhat Kuchencherekov)

One of the many joys of cinema is its ability to offer audiences a glimpse into a culture that they otherwise may never experience first hand.  The lifestyle of a nomadic sheep shepherd family on the vast barren steppe in southern Kazakhstan is not something that many audiences, even from other parts of Kazakhstan, would have much insight into. Set in the middle of nowhere on the Kazakh steppe, where the nearest city is 500 kilometres away, Asa (Askhat Kuchencherekov) has recently completed his naval service and is now living with his sister’s nomadic shepherd family in order to become a shepherd himself. But in order to get his own flock and therefore independence, Asa must marry. Unfortunately the only eligible girl living anywhere near his sister’s family is the never-seen Tulpan, who dislikes Asa’s ears and would prefer to go to college in the city rather than become a shepherd’s wife.

Writer/director Sergey Dvortsevoy gives Tulpan a gentle naturalism that never feels pretentious or laboured. The combination of long shots and scenes depicting everyday domestic life, which don’t necessary contain anything of narrative importance, makes the film truly observational. Young children and various animals roam freely to interact with the main characters, and accidents and natural occurrences remain in the film to give it a sense of immediacy. The constantly moving camera is often very strategic about when it reveals certain elements, giving Tulpan an overall sensation of planned spontaneity. The most remarkable scene depicts an actual lamb birthing, shot by Dvortsevoy’s crew who were kept on constant standby in order to start filming exactly when they needed to. Another highlight is the very funny scene involving an angry camel.

tulpan-press-photo1Watching Tulpan is not an earth shattering experience but its ethnographic detail and beautiful cinematography are enough to sustain interest from audiences looking for something outside of their comfort zone. Asa’s quest to gain Tulpan’s love, his conflict with his brother-in-law and the general difficulties facing the family are really secondary elements in this film, which is primarily about capturing moments that represent the nomadic lifestyle. 

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. I saw this on the weekend, and I’m afraid to say the experience was ruined by the sound in the cinema (James St in Brisbane) which was entirely too loud. Even the ‘silent’ parts, with the wind blowing across the plains were ruined because they weren’t silent at all…not even atmospheric. Just too loud. Needless to say the child singing was actually quite unbearable. I’m sure there was something about this film that I ordinarily would have liked but it was too well hidden for me to find it amongst an impending disgusting head cold and horrendous sound.

    Rant over.

  2. I hate cinemas with sound bleeds. The Lumiere Cinemas in Melbourne were notorious for that. It really can ruin the film.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon as there are lots of good film coming up that demand full health!

  3. Thomas, have you seen The Story of the Weeping Camel or The Cave of the Yellow Dog? I pretty much agree with your comments and your rating, but having seen those earlier films, there was nothing new for me in this one.

  4. Hi Paul. Nope, I haven’t seen either but am aware of them both. I remember when The Story of the Weeping Camel came out as it became a running joke with my wife (girlfriend at the time) that no mater how hard we tried something always prevented us from seeing it. Either we arrived late, screenings were full or we just couldn’t bring ourselves to see something so worthy on that particular night! One day I’ll see it…

  5. Thomas, of the three films, The Story of the Weeping Camel is easily the best. Though, now that you’ve seen Tulpan, maybe you won’t be as impressed with it…

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