Yesterday evening we saw "Tulpan," at the New York Film Festival, the debut feature-film narrative by Kazakhstani documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy. The film won the Prix Du Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
"Shy courtship, stark landscapes and a spirited supporting cast of livestock make 'Tulpan' a vivid, intensely enjoyable debut feature from former documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoi," writes Jonathan Romney in Screen Daily. That pretty much says it all. The film centers on Asa, a big eared Kazakstan sailor who tries to become a sheephearder under the auspice of his sister, his unforgiving step-brother and their lovely little family of tots and animals. The only way to win his own flock is to score a wife, but his big ears seem to prevent him from scoring the only girl around for miles.
It's honestly not a film for everyone, but it's definitely unique, spirited and has some beautiful moments (the native songs the little girl sings are simply gorgeous). However, not everyone loved it. Some political officials in Kazakstan hated it and felt it did further damage to the country's image than a certain other famous mockumentary that unintentionally put the country on the global map.
"A lot of people were there, and people loved the film, but some [government] officials said, 'It's worse than Borat, it's very bad for Kazakhstan,' Dvortsevoy said in the Q&A after the film in his partly broken English. "I mean politically, because they ask, 'why do you want to show this? Why would you want to present Kazakhstan to the world as a poor country?" How do I explain [to them] this is a story. In Kazakhstan there are rich people, there are poor people, so why can't I show that? But for the [political] officials, it's no good."A comedic, but tenderly sad ethno-drama and practically part wildlife film its tenor is not that far off "The Story of the Weeping Camel." We honestly didn't love it completely, its long 10-minute takes were dry at times, but its humor was pretty rich. And when will you ever see dramatic birth of a baby lamb onscreen that's captivating and stunning. A lot of people seemed to love the bleak beauty of the windswept landscape in a way that remind them of the austere John Ford films, but while it's intimate in its own way, it didn't totally grab us and we'd probably rank it lower on the scale of film's we saw at NYFF. Still we're glad we had a chance to experience such a different film. We don't want to throw it under the bus, but this is about all the review we can muster. There were a lot of older people (maybe your grandparents) who seemed to love it, so take that for what it's worth. You can see some clips of the film here.