Film Highlight: Tulpan


Tulpan, the first feature by Russian ethno-documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy, winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, is a fiction founded on a powerful sense of place—and that place, the vast nowhere void of southern Kazakhstan, could easily be another planet. The movie is not so much a documentary as it is a dramatic account of a documentary situation—a simple young sailor in the Russian navy, Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), returns to his native village of sheepherders in Kazakhstan and decides to pursue a woman who is evidently the only marriageable maiden in the territory. (The movie takes its name from the never-seen object of Asa's affections.) Dvortsevoy could be the most artistically driven documentary filmmaker since Werner Herzog—living with his subjects for months (and sometimes years) and doing as much of the film work as he can himself. This rigorous method ensures a movie in which the spectator is constantly wondering how the filmmaker contrived to make it. Tulpan has a very simple story, but it is a continuously mysterious experience—at once direct and oblique, absurdist, and very much a show. Life's defining attribute, as portrayed in Tulpan, is cussedness. And if there's anyone more stubborn than Dvortsevoy's characters, it's the filmmaker himself. In every respect, this unclassifiable movie is an amazing accomplishment.