Review: Tulpan (2008)

Director: Sergei Dvortsevoy | 100 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Tulepbergen Baisakalov, Ondasyn Besikbasov, Samal Yeslyamova, Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Bereke Turganbayev, Nurzhigit Zhapabayev, Mahabbat Turganbayeva, Amangeldi Nurzhanbayev, Tazhyban Khalykulova, Zhappas Zhailendaievubaev, Esentai

‘Tulpan’ means ‘tulip’. The flower, which has long been one of our largest export products, does not originally come from the Netherlands, but from Kazakhstan (and China). The story goes that he ended up in the Netherlands via Turkey (where the flower was also found) and Antwerp. On the Kazakh steppe, the beautiful tulip is a rarity, as are cute, nubile girls, which are almost even rarer.

Kazakh newcomer Sergei Dvortsevoy took four years to make ‘Tulpan’, his feature film debut. It was shot in the ‘Hunger Steppe’, where life is hard and austere and the landscape as vast and desolate as a sea of ​​sand. Plagued by strong, sharp winds, scenes sometimes had to be redone twenty-five times, which is a good illustration of how things actually work on the steppe. A reality that the brand-new director knows how to convey. The film style is dry and direct, almost like a documentary. In some ways the film is reminiscent of ‘The Story of the Weeping Camel’: same kind of setting, same primitive living conditions, it even features a camel. In this film, that scene with the camel is a hilarious highlight, the beast chases the local vet, who transports her sick child in the sidecar of his motorcycle. Moving, but also very funny. Humor plays an important role in the film, although it is not a comedy, such as the films of Kusturica, which ‘Tulpan’ reminds of in the distance. Dvortsevoj is much more modest and humble in the use of cinematic means, which works out well here.

In terms of content, however, ‘Tulpan’ does not offer any major surprises. Nevertheless, the film was awarded the prize of ‘Un Certain Regard’ in Cannes. The jury praised it for his powerful direction and good acting (often the result of strong direction). In Cannes they are undoubtedly right on these points. Dvortsevoj’s film stands firmly on two legs, which is certainly admirable for a debut. The actors are amateurs (are there professionals in Kazakhstan?) And act themselves. Their game is convincing and natural, but again: we’ve all seen it before. The pace, the humor, the characters, you have to feel like it. Many, especially young people, want to get away from the harsh and sometimes boring life in the inhospitable steppes, where the wind and drought reign supreme. There is not much more choice than becoming a shepherd and that is precisely why Tulpan does not want to marry Asa. That Asa wants to stay (for the time being) is to his credit, but the fact remains: life on the Kazakh steppe is not for everyone and that also applies to this film about it.

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