October 19, 2008
Similar to Kazakh filmmaker Serik Aprimov's perestroika comedy, The Last Stop, Sergey Dvortsevoy's Tulpan is also a chronicle of a young man's readjustment to a civilian life in the bucolic steppes after an adventure-filled military service that brought him to the far reaches of the former Soviet Republic. Longing for a nomadic life in the plains of the Hunger Steppe, Asa (Askat Kuchinchirekov) has traded in his life as a sailor (where he had sketched out his pastoral dream on the back of his uniform collar) to live with his sister Samal (Samal Eslyamova) and work as an apprentice for her husband, an experienced shepherd named Ondas (Ondasyn Besikasov), in exchange for receiving his own sheep to tend after he finds a wife to marry. To this end, Asa has his heart set on a young woman named Tulpan, and enlists Ondas and his best friend, truck driver Boni (Tulepbergen Baisakalov) to act as intermediaries for his introduction, trying to impress Tulpan's parents with stories of epic battles with a giant octopus and decorative (if not at all practical) gifts from his seafaring days. However, when Tulpan unexpectedly rejects his marriage proposal on a whim, and Ondas becomes reluctant to give him his own sheep after a rash of stillbirths in his already dwindling flock, Asa becomes even more determined to strike out on his own and pursue his elusive destiny. Dvortsevoy's idiosyncratic fusion of ethnographic documentary with understated comedy creates a lyrical realism that reflects the paradoxical beauty of the harsh, desolate landscape. As in Aprimov's seminal film, Dvortsevoy captures the human comedy intrinsic in the characters' defiance of their fates, finding quotidian grace in the simple act of survival and natural community.