Sparse, dry, bleak, and alien, describes the location for this film. The words also describe the way Tulpan was filmed - long slow deliberate shots. The film is about a land and people completely foreign from any experience we could even imagine in North America, the steppes of Kazakhstan. The contrast to this harsh environment is a film about Asa who dreams of a different life; his sister Samal who dreams of moving to a different place; and her husband the hard working realist. How these people eek out a life in that arid desolate land is nothing short of incredible.
The film opens with the sounds of fabric blowing in the wind, a heard of camels moves off camera, the dusts settles and the barren landscape is revealed; in the foreground, a post-apocalypse tractor that looks straight out of Road Warrior, and a Yurt in the background. The film cuts to inside of the Yurt. Asa is trying to convince Tulpan's parents that he is the right husband for their daughter. He's supported by his friend, Boni (Mr. Gold Teeth with the big smile), and his brother in law Ondas. The story unfolds very slowly, much like life in this arid land. Asa is an immature dreamer faced with the difficulties of living with his sister, her three children, and her husband. Odan the husband is a sheep farmer faced with the harsh reality of still born sheep. Samal, the sister, wife, and mother wants to move to another location; but is always happy, always caring for those around her. I particularly loved Samal's 2 year old son - there is something universal about children getting in the way and being adorable.
Tulpan reminds me of Himalaya, both films show an incredibly difficult life in an area we can never imagine. Both feel a bit like documentaries, but they are works of fiction and acted. Himilaya has a more exciting back story, but both films are stark. I was also struck by the length of time between cuts, Tulpan is not choreographed as well (the camera movement in Tulpan not as deliberate and poetic), but does have a similar slow long cut rhythm like, The Country Teacher. It is the polar opposite of the funny but fake Borat.
The film has a dry gritty feel to it. I could almost taste the sand in my mouth, feel the cold, and smell the death of the animals. The director has done a remarkable job at conveying those feelings. And yet there was a warmth to the film, Asa's innocence, Samal's caring, and Odan's tough love. Technically the film was done very well for what appears to be a single camera film. Shots are reasonably in focus, exposure in horribly difficult situations is excellent, the ambient sound of wind and animals is well recorded, and the pacing is as expected, very slow. Overall, a wonderful accomplishment.
The film is not rated. Younger viewers could possibly watch this film. There is no violence. However, this is a movie about real life of a sheep herder; life on a farm can be a bit brutal at times. Several lambs are shown still born and dead. There is a fairly graphic birthing of a lamb. And sheep are shown copulating. Nothing in the world unnatural about any of these acts, parents just might like to know. Boni has pictures of naked women decorating his tractor and there is a brief shot of a Playboyesque picture full screen. I don't exactly recall stong language in the subtitles, but there might have been a little bit. Overall, this is a film that a mature young adult would be able to watch.
The DVD is as sparse as the landscape; it is presented with the movie and the trailer. There are no bonus features. The film is presented in Russian or the nomadic language they speak, with English subtitles. Here is a film where I would have liked to know a bit more about the making of and the actors in this film. That unfortunate time where we get hours of garbage about the Wedding Crashers on a DVD, but when it would be useful there's nothing.
To give the film a bit of context, I entered Betpak-Dala Steppe (the filming location) into google maps. Looking at the satellite view it is clear that this area is horribly desolate, there is nothing but flat land for hundreds of miles. The nearest road appears to be 50 to 100 miles away. The people of this film are truly nomads.
I loved this film. It is a beautifully made and beautifully acted movie. The pace is slow, and the story is very simple. It is a lovely hour and forty minutes.