Tulpan is the first feature film written and directed by Kazakhstan native Sergey Dvortsevoy, released by Zeitgeist films in 2008 and having its Minnesota premiere next month at the Walker Art Center. Set on the remote Hunger Steppe of southern Kazakhstan, the film centers on a lighthearted young man, Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), training to become a sheepherder while living with his sister’s family.
Village law holds that in order to obtain his own flock, Asa must acquire a wife. The last single female in the village is a young woman, Tulpan, who wants nothing to do with Asa. After several failed attempts to convince Tulpan’s parents of his worth and merit, Asa continues on a lonely quest to win Tulpan’s love.
|tulpan, a film directed by sergey dvortsevoy. playing may 8-10 at the walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($8) and information, see walkerart.org.|
Tulpan is a fictional narrative with the qualities of a documentary. The use of a handheld camera adds an element of spontaneity and surprise. Shots are so believable and intimate that the viewer feels like a voyeur peeping in on the sheepherders’ lives.
The most mesmerizing scenes consist of animals and humans interacting against an empty and hazy landscape, creating richly-textured and lyrical moments seemingly impossible to have been planned. Scenes in which animals, children, and sheepherders mill around as a dust storm swirls just beyond the desert are more musical than cinematic.
However, the film’s depth and beauty do not prepare the viewer for some painfully graphic scenes. One scenario features Asa struggling to deliver a lamb from its mother, who repeatedly moans and shrieks in insufferable pain. As it’s his first time delivering a lamb, Asa awkwardly pulls and pries at the fetus, producing an excruciating ripping sound.
Even more harrowing is the scene in which Asa and his brother-in-law attempt to resuscitate a baby sheep they’ve found dead after a dust storm. The brother-in-law wraps his lips around the mouth of the black and decaying sheep, blowing into its lungs while pumping on its rotting chest. When Asa follows suit, he nearly vomits, unable to bear the taste.
That said, Tulpan is a gorgeous display of cinematography combined with a charming and eccentric love story. Viewers who enjoy Iranian films such as The White Balloon will also enjoy Tulpan.
Jaclyn Evert is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota.