REVIEW: DVD Release: Tulpan

Film: Tulpan
Release date: 12th April 2010
Certificate: 12
Running time: 100 mins
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy
Starring: Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Samal Yeslyamova
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Studio: Drakes Avenue
Format: DVD
Country: Russia

Sergei Dvortsevoy demonstrates how an age old formula, in the hands of a talented director, can become a beautiful, award-winning film. Now released on DVD, two years since its 2008 theatrical release, the film received the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes.

The story features lowly farm hand Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), who longs to move away from his brother-in-law, Ondas (Ondasyn Besikbasov), and his steppe to build his own yurt and family, and set up a flock of sheep of his own. In order to do so, he must find a wife, which proves difficult considering that there is only one suitable woman in the area who rejects Asa with the excuse that his ears are too big. Unwilling to accept her refusals, Asa continues to pursue Tulpan, only to discover that she plans to leave for the city. This encourages his best friend, Boni (Tolepbergen Baisakalov) - the comic relief of the film - to move forward with his own dream to leave for the city with Asa.

Meanwhile, Ondas is haunted with troubles; his flock slowly dwindling from too many stillborn lambs, and his family falling apart from unfulfilled dreams of leaving the steppe, in addition to arguments surrounding Asa’s presence. He represents the stereotype of the harsh father of the household – for example, he neglects his children even though they all repeatedly make attempts to please him (Maha (Mahabbat Turganbayeva) with her singing and Nuka (Nurzhigit Zhapabayev) with his endearing mischievousness).

Beke (Bereke Turganbayev) also searches for the respect of his father, as the oldest son who helps on the steppe, and recites news broadcasts for his father, adding a political insight to the story for both Ondas’ character and the viewer. At one point during the film, the children are seen massaging Ondas after he has spent a long day on the steppe, while arguing with each other clearly in an attempt to fight for his affections and respect. However, his affections are required elsewhere, as he endeavours to individually save his other children - the new born lambs…

The film is punctuated with two contrasting musical styles throughout the soundtrack. Firstly, a repeated use of Rivers Of Babylon by Bony M, played by Boni in his car to remind himself and Asa of their dreams of paradise - he, surrounded by attractive women in the city, and Asa on his own steppe with a family (his “little corner of paradise”). The other music is purely diegetic, featuring the two main female characters: Samal (Samal Eslyamova) and her daughter, Maha, singing. Samal’s voice is beautifully poignant, as she sings her children to sleep, appearing to be the only part of Ondas’ life which makes him show any form of emotion - smiling and finally showing affection towards his wife. However, Maha barely speaks, preferring to communicate through repeatedly singing the same song, which never pleases Ondas, instead becoming an annoyance to both himself and the viewer.

The prospect of escape is forced on Asa from many angles, so much so that the viewer is left questioning whether he actually wants to leave, or whether it is simply expected from his generation. Boni constantly talks of his dream of the two in the city, and Nuka echoes these dreams by pleading for Asa to take him away - when he finally meets Tulpan, he discovers that she plans to leave for the city and gain an education. All signs seem to point to Asa leaving the steppe, although he never expresses any desire for the life that everyone else seems to want for him. Nevertheless, Kuchinchirekov delivers an excellent performance as a young man attempting to prove himself to his brother-in-law/boss, and the woman he plans to marry but has yet to meet.

Considering the plain and uninteresting landscape that Tulpan is set against, as well as the lack of creativity with the basic story formula (although telling the classic story of the fight for the ‘American Dream’ from a Kazakh perspective does warrant recognition for originality), it is surprising that Dvortsevoy has succeeded in creating a film that is both compelling and emotionally involving - the viewer hoping for Asa’s success from start to finish as a relatable, simple character with simple dreams - while simultaneously depicting a moving portrayal of the hardships of a Kazakh steppe.

Although it is not a laugh-a-minute comedy, there are a number of comic moments in the film, focusing largely on dry humour and reaction comedy. For example, Boni often acts as the comic relief of the film with his laddish dreams of constant sex when he moves to the city, and the magazine cut-outs of naked women plastered all over the inside of his car. The odd facial appearance of Asa is also a running joke within the film, beginning with Tulpan’s rejection of him due to his big ears.

Tulpan is a compelling film with simple characters, and although the story lacks originality, Dvortsevoy has succeeded in creating a film which is both emotionally involving and relatable. HB

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