A small mob of camels stampede by a nomads tent. Inside, a young guy in a sailor suit sits on the rug, cheerfully recounting his death struggle with an octopus to the impassive middle-aged couple hes hoping will be his in-laws. Miscellaneous brays punctuate Asas story, which is interrupted by a cutaway to a local funkster piloting his jalopy across the steppe, rocking out to Rivers of Babylon. 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 placeand that place, namely the vast nowhere void of southern Kazakhstan, could easily be another planet. Dvortsevoy has populated the inhospitable terrain of the so-called Hunger Steppe with actors who lived as nomadic sheepherders during the course of the shoot. Thus, the performers settled into a yurt with a bunch of rambunctious kids and a gaggle of domestic animals. As fluid as Tulpanseems, its painstakingly constructed out of a series of observed moments, staged interactions, and precisely dubbed sounds. Everything makes noisecamels snort, sheep bleat, people declaim, machines sputterwithout any particular hierarchy. Lifes defining attribute, as portrayed in Tulpan, is what American Westerners might call cussedness. And if theres anyone more stubborn than Dvortsevoys characters its the filmmaker himselfcamping out on the steppe, waiting months for the precise weather conditions to shoot a particular scene. In every respect, this unclassifiable movie is an amazing accomplishment.
May 8-14, 2009