Published Apr 09, 2009For anyone familiar with films like The Story of the Weeping Camel or A Time For Drunken Horses, which were critically lauded as sharp, ethnographic slices of genius, despite being little more than choppily assembled, and boring to watch, footage, Tulpan will not come as any sort of surprise, featuring a 15-minute lamb birth and the occasional lingering shot of nothing.
It all means something, of course, but when it comes down to it, who gives a shit? Pedagogy is all fine and well but at least make it remotely engaging, or edit the occasional lingering shot of donkeys screwing.
Part planned film and part documentary, the movie takes place in the seemingly uninhabitable Betpak Dala Desert in Kazakhstan, where Asa (Askat Kuchinchirekov) lives with his sister Samal (Samal Yeslyamova) and his stoic brother-in-law (Ondasyn Besikbasov), wanting desperately a wife for himself and a herd of sheep. The problem is that Tulpan, the only available girl of breeding age within travelling distance, has no interest in Asa, citing aesthetics, when her desire for the city life is the real reason. And without Tulpan, Asa gets no sheep.
The story charts both the dying lifestyle of the weathered sheepherder in favour of a "simpler," relatively urban life for a younger generation, in addition to the ordeals and tribulations involved in a typical coming-of-age story. Asa proves initially inept at his traditional male trials but keeps on trying, seemingly out of environmental expectations, as opposed to any sort of passion of mind.
Not without merit, Tulpan makes a sharp point about ever-changing landscapes and lost customs but does so in that faux-artiste manner that many people claim to love for fear of looking ignorant or insensitive towards a "way of life."
Supposed art versus entertainment aside, some might enjoy what is essentially a 15-minute movie stretched into two hours, as they can revisit their grocery list and contemplate what dead white theorist to quote at their next networking social. (Mongrel Media)