Bonnie and I enjoy watching obscure foreign films that feature life in exotic locations. Tulpan, a film from Kazakhstan, directed by Sergey Dvortsevoy fit the bill. Set on the dry brushy steppes of Kazakhstan, it shows how hard living can be even in these modern times for nomadic sheep herders and their families.
In Tulpan, former sailor Asa has returned from the Russian Navy to the Hunger Steppe (well named place) with the dream of becoming a herdsman with his own yurt and a family, but his general immaturity and lack of agricultural skills work against him. His brother-in-law tells him he will never have his own herd until he marries because a wife who will do much backbreaking work is essential to survival in the vast semi-arid region. But there is only one eligible woman in the area, Tulpan, whose dream is to go off to college. She has a mother who protects her from shiftless suitors.
Tulpan is fiction, unlike Dvortsevoy's other work, but it still has a very real feel. The weather and antics of livestock must have been just what happened out on the steppes during filming. There are several slow one-camera-shot scenes, where the action and dialogue start off camera. Viewers are challenged to figure out what is going on. Who keeps singing? Why is one child interested in world news radio? Sound is as important as image in this story in which everything is slowly revealed.
Though Tulpan won many prizes at film festivals, you will probably never see it at a regular theater. Check your library.
Tulpan. Zeitgeist Films, 2009. ISBN 0795975111935