English Reviews

Review: The Rescue (2021)

The Rescue (2021)

Directed by: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi | 107 minutes | documentary

For two weeks in the summer of 2018, the world is under the spell of the rescue of a Thai youth football team who became trapped in the kilometer-deep cave of Tham Luang Nang Non. Soldiers who had rushed were powerless; two Thai Navy Seals died. No one appears to have the right training and equipment to free the young football players from the endless corridors of fast flowing water. Except for two sweet-natured, introverted, middle-aged Englishmen.

The rescued twelve football players and their coach are not spoken of in this documentary from National Geographic. Rick Stanton and John Volanthen – experienced cave divers, are the protagonists. Hypothermic is not the right word, even a little out of place in this case. The events are exciting enough; the emotions of reserved Englishmen may be the right ones. This is especially effective when the gruesome liberation method is described.

The divers evacuated the weakened football players by transporting them one by one with a narcotic and an oxygen mask – as if under anesthesia, underwater to the exit. The undersigned always has objections: it remains a morbid, risky undertaking, but the outcome is already known. The approach of the documentary makers initially feels good, pending an emotional recap in a broader perspective.

Yet you are left with the feeling that what is shown has already been completed; perhaps this documentary should have been made sooner. For the viewer, the critical note that lets you know why not is missing; above all, there is no other perspective than that of the cave divers. A typical fact of a National Geographic documentary, by the way: the technical, supercooled approach – however careful, is not enough for the right dramatic effect.

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Review: Once Upon a Time in Venezuela (2020)

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela (2020)

Directed by: Anabel Rodríguez Ríos | 99 minutes | documentary

The lyrics of the song that an old inhabitant of Congo Mirador starts to sing while floating around on his boat, is very promising: ‘I am very lucky to be born in Congo Mirador…’.

Once upon a time it was indeed very fortunate to be born in this idyllic fishing village. The village on the edge of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela sits above one of the largest oil fields in Latin America and was reasonably prosperous for a long time. The floating houses formed a thriving community. But it turns out to rumble beneath the idyll: sedimentation (a process in which sinking material such as small and sand accumulates on the bottom) causes it to become shallower, making it more difficult for residents to keep their homes afloat. Aquatic life is in a bad state, amenities have been neglected by the government and many families are moving to the city or to neighboring Colombia in the hope of a better life. The residents no longer feel the great happiness of yesteryear.

Venezuelan director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos (herself from the capital Caracas) follows the remaining families in her intimate documentary ‘Once Upon a Time in Venezuela’. We see domestic scenes in the small community of wooden houses on stilts. A young girl gets ready for the day, combs her hair, prepares arepas and a little later leaves with her brother in their boat.

We also meet Tamara, a woman who considers herself the grande dame of Congo Mirador. A hefty diva, leader of the socialist party’s local branch and idolatrous of the late former president Hugo Chavez. Her house is full of his image and is a sweet raid for fellow party members.

It turns out that in addition to problems with the practical liveability in the village, the community faces another major problem: the great political division, as the teacher of the only primary school, Natalie, puts it. ‘Chavistas’ on the one hand and opposition supporters on the other are causing major tensions.

And it is not Natalie who sows the division, she says herself. The firing comes from Tamara, who is portrayed as a good but lonely and greedy woman, landowner, fond of food and telephone, whose only distraction is apparently to organize evenings for her comrades from the Socialist Party. Natalie on the other hand is the altruistic and critical teacher, who pays for all the necessities for the makeshift school out of her own pocket and does not let herself be bullied away by representatives of the federal government who make her work impossible with bullying visits.

The battle between these two camps goes from small to large: the two women represent the whole of Congo and the village again represents the rest of the country. For example, director Rodríguez Ríos subtly but penetratingly shows how this division, in combination with neglected facilities such as food, care and education, is slowly but surely pushing a country to the abyss.

The shot of five young girls is beautiful, just before the annual beauty pageant that takes place that evening. After a long dress up, they sit in white and pink princess dresses, their faces covered in make-up and their black hair tied back to the back, side by side on a bench. Their faces speak volumes: bored, insecure and with a fresh reluctance they head for the evening. Moving, but also wry since we saw just before how an older sister of one of them got married recently, at the age of 13, and now – barely 14 years old – is pregnant.

Tamara, meanwhile, is preparing for the upcoming elections: every vote counts for the socialist party, and the local leader does not care about getting the votes in. How shameless it is, she just lets them film. Voting in exchange for a telephone, for cash, for gifts, food; there is nothing strange about it to her. Besides shameless, it is also the sad reality of what remains of the ‘socialist revolution’: an army of local party workers who mainly meet, cherish a story that no longer exists and go into the country at every election to buy votes.

A few scenes later we see Tamara herself visit the governor in Maracaibo, an exciting visit that ends in disappointment. It is striking how she is treated: riddled with chic rooms and a tasty breakfast, but her – surprisingly emotional – account of Congo’s problems is ignored. In the middle of her story, the governor picks up his phone to have a completely different conversation.

The film cleverly builds up to the parliamentary elections of December 6, 2015, which had a surprising outcome. The sad aftermath of this is unfortunately history: although the opposition won, President Maduro replaced the parliament in its entirety a year and a half later with a newly set up sham institution. Because of the special characters and the surprising structure, ‘Once Upon a Time in Venezuela’ very convincingly portrays how one village symbolizes the entire country: despite its lucrative location on top of a gigantic oil field, it is deserted, cut off from the outside world, corrupt, divided to the bone and sinking.


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Review: Last tango – One more tango (2015)

Director: German Kral | 85 minutes | documentary, musical

“If I died and was born again, I would do it all again; above all being a tango dancer. I would do anything again, except start a relationship with Juan. ” We are introduced to the 80-year-old and still beautiful María Nieves. For over forty years she formed a tango couple with the now 83-year-old Juan Carlos Copes. Together they were the epitome of Argentine tango for many years. They toured Latin America, the US and even Japan with their tango shows. They met in the late 1940s in one of the many milongas (tango salons) in Buenos Aires in those years. María was still a teenager, who knew nothing about tango yet but danced for hours in the house while listening to the radio. Juan was determined to become the best dancer in the milonga and found the perfect partner in María.

So much for the romantic narrative of this story, which has spread over so many decades and is depicted in this documentary with fiction elements, directed by the Argentinian-German filmmaker German Kral. Because behind the special partnership was in reality grief, rejection and jealousy. We see María talk about the early days, often musing, full of humor and self-perspective. But now and then her true feelings seep through. She fell in love with a handsome young dancer, who was actually a shrewd businessman and – despite his self-proclaimed respect for her as a dancer and as a human being – never really loved her all these years. Less is spoken by Juan himself, who, like María, is beautifully preserved and still performs on stage every night as a dancer. But not with María; Their partnership came to an abrupt end in the late 1990s when Juan declared overnight after touring overnight that he would never dance with her again. The film shows why: his wife, twenty years younger, stopped working with María and demanded their business divorce from Juan.

Juan and María tell their story in front of the camera and to a group of young tango dancers and choreographers, who in turn depict all the beautiful, dramatic and tragic moments in the couple’s history while dancing. The creation of these dance scenes and the spectacular result of them gives the film a great love for the tango, not only in text but also in images. In between, we see the protagonists wandering the streets of the Argentinian capital, which is so different from half a century ago; which they sometimes hardly recognize. “Here in the 1950s we danced in hundreds at a time, under the stars!” María exclaims as she takes the film crew to what has now become a dilapidated gymnasium. These fragments not only made the film a personal story, but also the (sometimes a bit too) nostalgic history of an irrevocably changed city. The genre changes work when the interviews with Juan and María are interspersed with the dance sequences, but the director wanted to show too much of the realization. That is not always necessary, he would rather have edited more of the rare but fantastic archive material into the film.

The story that is often painful for María also has a somewhat bitter aftertaste for the viewer. She visibly enjoys the admiration she gets from the young dancers, but there is something gnawing about. “Being financially independent and being able to make my own plan has been good for me, but being alone at 80 is not nice for anyone,” she says softly as she looks back on her life. She too would have liked to have a family, children to take care of her. Most of all, she has retained the grace of a dancer and still has the love of tango in her life.

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Review: Turtle: The Incredible Journey (2009)

Director: Nick Stringer | 81 minutes | documentary | Dutch voice cast: Georgina Verbaan

Nature films are timeless, just think of Jacques Cousteau’s underwater films. Sometimes that produces gems such as ‘Microcosmos’ or ‘Earth’. And sometimes it is impressive, as with ‘March of the Penguins’, not because it is visually stunning, but it is nature itself that amazes you. ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ falls into the latter category.

Turtles are cute and it’s fun to watch them survive in the Pacific. Although fun, it is actually a lonely existence full of danger that lurks. From birth they have to survive on their own and that is not easy. If it is not natural enemies that make this almost impossible, then it is humans who are a serious threat from line fishing from fishing boats. Just like in ‘Earth’, in ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ a message is conveyed that we bear the responsibility, must have more respect for nature and must act consciously so that turtles will soon have a beach where they can lay their eggs on. can breed. Because for millions (!) Of years, even in the time of the dinosaur,

It is almost magical how these turtles have lived and managed to survive for so long and it makes a nice story for a documentary. What is disappointing about ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ is that it is not always beautifully executed. It can be clearly seen that blue screen technology has been used regularly, for example at the meeting between Turtle and the shark Finn. This comes across as very unnatural, something that is extra disappointing in a nature film. It also seems as if images are sometimes colored so that it looks ‘more beautiful’ than it really is. The sunlight that shines through the water really looks different underwater, something that avid snorkelers and divers will immediately recognize. The latter may also be due to the fact that the first part of the film in which the newborn Turtle is transported by the Gulf Stream to the North Pole, was shot in a large aquarium. A handy solution for something that would otherwise have probably taken too long – or was too expensive – to film.

Besides the fact that ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ is visually a bit disappointing, it will also disappoint for some that it is really a children’s film. The simple commentary is clearly written for the small audience, which is further emphasized by the somewhat childish voice of Georgina Verbaan. Apparently this was deliberately chosen because in the original English version the film is voiced by the actress Miranda Richardson, also known for her role as Rita Skeeter in ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ (2005). You know exactly when the remark “ah how sweet” and the screams will come from the more exciting scenes from the children’s mouths. That is clearly aimed at in ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’. This is of course no reason not to see the film about the turtle,

It is striking that ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ is packed with music. In a nature film, too little music is a better choice than too much. It’s all about the images and nature has its own sound, you don’t want to drown that out. With a nature film for children it is a different story, there are also fewer sounds under water (that we can hear?) Than above water. Predictable yet funny is that when the sharks come into the picture, the well-known ‘Jaws’ tune is incorporated into the music. A strange and unexpected choice of music is the theme song of the BBC television series “Miss Marple” from the 80s and 90s (with Joan Hickson as Jane Marple) by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.

All in all, ‘Turtle: The Incredible Journey’ is a nice nature film for (grand) parents who want to let their (grand) children watch an educational film for a change. Although the makers have done their best to make it a visually beautiful film, the adult viewer should watch ‘Planet Earth: Ocean Deep’ from the well-known BBC television series to be impressed.

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Review: Transit Havana (2016)

Directed by: Daniel Abma | 90 minutes | documentary

It is a worldwide fact: due to the sharp increase in the number of transgender or trans * people, the waiting lists for sex reassignment surgery are rising enormously. The hospitals can no longer cope with the registrations. This is not only the case in the Netherlands, where hundreds of sex changes take place every year, but also in Cuba, with more than 11 million inhabitants, not even that much smaller than our country. With the difference that in Cuba just five trans * people are operated on every year …

In ‘Transit Havana’ we follow three trans * people in their daily activities. Each of them has already had the necessary hormonal treatments and are now going through life as Malú, Odette and Juani. All three of them – like many of their fellow sufferers – are waiting for an operation. But the surgeons flown in from the Netherlands and Belgium only have a few days in which they can only perform five sex reassignment operations.

Malú is the youngest of the three, but has been through more than many peers. The twenty-eight-year-old Joel woman has always acted like a girl, but that was not accepted by her father. She left home at the age of eleven, entered prostitution and is now the leader of the Cuban trans community. She comes to the aid of fellow sufferers with word and deed, but sometimes has to stand by and watch how someone else who has applied for surgery less often than she is, is given priority. Odette is in her late thirties and still lives with her mother and grandmother. Previously, she worked in the military, but she has always kept her identity hidden. Now she works as a goatherd. She does not have to count on support from her strict religious family, it is after all not “God’s will”. Odette herself also remains loyal to the church. Very loyal, as it turns out… Juani is the oldest of the three main characters in ‘Transit Havana’. The sixties lives with his brother. As with Odette, money (or rather, the lack of it) plays a major role in his situation, he much preferred to live independently, or, with a lovely wife. But no one wants him so far. Juani is Cuba’s first official transsexual. He has already undergone penile surgery, but a penile implant should solve his erection problems. But no one wants him so far. Juani is Cuba’s first official transsexual. He has already undergone penile surgery, but a penile implant should solve his erection problems. But no one wants him so far. Juani is Cuba’s first official transsexual. He has already undergone penile surgery, but a penile implant should solve his erection problems.

A fourth important role in ‘Transit Havana’ is reserved for Mariela Castro, daughter of Raúl Castro (and niece of Fidel). For years she has been championing the LGBT community in her country, which had a rather sexually conservative reputation. As head of CENESEX, the National Center for Sex Education, she is responsible for a real sexual revolution, under the slogan ‘homofobia no, socialismo sì!’. Thanks to her, the treatments and operations are free.

Transit Havana is a telling, entertaining and beautifully shot documentary. The intimate recordings of a waxing Malú, Odette’s conversations with her ancient grandmother and the candid stories of Juani, it will stick to your retina. With their film, filmmakers Daniel Abma and Alex Bakker provide as complete a picture as possible of the daily life in Cuba of various trans * persons. The problems they face, their hopes for a better future and their fears and insecurities do not differ much from transgender people in other countries, but due to the unique situation in Cuba ‘Transit Havana’ rises above the topic and is so interesting for more than just the limited target group.

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Review: Under the Rainbow (2002)

Directed by: Dean Blumberg | 18 minutes | short film, documentary

The short film ‘Under the Rainbow’ starts with the message that one hundred and sixty-five security cameras are monitoring an area of ​​thirty kilometers. The cameras record about 100,000 stories from Johannesburg residents every day. This is one story. As a viewer you are immediately stimulated by this information and you are curious about the course of the film, which is made from an original point of view. A film made in this way requires good editing. The director must have thought this too. Dean Blumberg therefore quickly abandons the originality when he also inserts images that were not made by security cameras. Apparently not everything is properly registered by the security cameras.

What remains is the story: the survival instinct of two boys in the streets of Johannesburg. The boys are friends and have different characters. One is a dreamer who wants to be a famous dancer someday. He even claims to be able to dance without hearing music. What follows is a dance, which unfortunately is provided with music by the filmmaker. The other has no more dreams and lives from day to day. He indicates that the city (humanity) will never change. Only the population will continue to increase in number.

When one of the boys commits a brutal murder, the film suddenly takes a different turn. The sympathy generated at first turns resolutely into antipathy. The so-called friendship gives way to the harsh reality in which everyone is for himself. There is no room for compassion. The filmmaker realistically shows that cities like Johannesburg are ravaged by crimes that are brutally committed without rancor. There is a vicious circle in which violence is no solution to this problem.

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Review: Unknown Bread (2016)

Directed by: Dennis Alink | 85 minutes | documentary | With: Herman Brood, Xandra Brood, Beppie Brood, Lola Brood, Holly Mae Brood, Frank Black, Bono, Freddi Cavalli, Bart Chabot, Anton Corbijn, Jules Deelder, Nina Hagen, David Hollestelle, Dany Lademacher, Hans Lafaille, Kees Meerman, Jan Schuurman, Henkjan Smits, Brenda van der Biezen, Dorien van der Valk, Koos van Dijk, Willem Venema, Henny Vrienten

Director Dennis Alink received an old box with a collection of videotapes from the legendary rock ‘n’ roll junkie Herman Brood. In the recordings, Brood strides through Amsterdam with a video camera aimed at himself, sneaks into his house like a burglar or sings a song behind a piano. They are plays for an imaginary audience, that is clear, because he invariably addresses the still unknown viewer with ladies and gentlemen. They are amusing and sometimes insightful images, which Alink combines together with other archive material and own recordings into a fluid story about shameless self-promotion and destruction.

The documentary ‘Unknown Brood’ (2016) is about the rise and fall of Holland’s most famous rock star and junkie, and Alink takes the suicide of Brood, who jumped from the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton in 11 June 2001, as a starting point. Anyone who knew Brood, or at least had listened carefully to his lyrics, could know that he had a death wish. He had also announced early on the way in which a jump from the roof — especially from the Hilton — was an obsession for him. His sister endorses this image, according to her, her brother would have committed suicide long ago if the drugs had not been there.

Alink focuses almost exclusively on the aspect of the addiction, its consequences for his private life, and his physical deterioration. He thus portrays a restless man who tackles his fears with sex, drugs and the longing for the eternal fame of rock ‘n’ roll. Salvation through death could not come until the great work was done, and meanwhile there was the alcohol and speed to keep the inner demons at bay.

Unfortunately, we do not find out exactly what those demons were. You would expect his family to be able to comment on this, but this prominent theme remains strikingly vague in the story. We can dismiss it as a fear of life, or later, as a fear of not counting anymore in the pantheon of the Dutch gods. However, this is so common that it does not bring us much closer to Brood.

According to his sister, Brood plays Brood in front of the camera and he is himself at home. It is an observation that is not endorsed by anyone else, and in everything that passes by, also in his own homemade films, we see the Brood again as we knew him from television, or on the street when he has his pants just below his buttocks, raced through the Spuistraat on a scooter: fearless or vulnerable, witty or drunk. Brood liked to show what it’s like to be Brood; the drugs showed openly the soul life of a closed man.

However nicely the story of ‘Unknown Brood’ is told, it does not add much to the existing image; if there is another Bread, it still remains unknown.

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Review: Father (2019)

Director: Isabel Lamberti | 24 minutes | short film, documentary

‘Vader’ is a sensitive short documentary about a father who has not seen his teenage son for almost six years. Father Jacinto takes his son Shakur (meaning “thankful”) on a short road trip to the coast. In an effort to mend old ties, the two gradually come closer together.

The setting of ‘Vader’ is gray and pale and is reminiscent of the Belgian coast, which often consists of disconsolate concrete. Father and son are anything but sentimental and as a viewer you wonder what happened and whether they are not going all over the place. Little by little you begin to understand the relationship between the two more. They turn out not to be the greatest of talkers, but they seem to say a lot to each other in their own language. Jacinto can talk to is his girlfriend, who is sometimes literally there on screen. While on the phone, Jacinto reflects on his past and how he can restore the relationship with his son.

Director Isabel Lamberti pays a lot of attention to details. She knows how to make something small out of something big, so that that small thing gets more value. ‘Vader’ is an intimate and moving documentary. Both the cinematography and the edit are daring, which makes the film playful, but you don’t lose your focus. ‘Father’ is what a short film should be. You get enough background information in all its subtlety, but nothing is completely sorted out. Space is left for your own perspective and opinion.

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Review: Un secret (2007)

Directed by: Claude Miller | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Cécile De France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sagnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, Nathalie Boutefeuille, Yves Verhoeven, Yves Jacques, Sam Garbarski, Orlando Nicoletti, Valentin Vigourt, Quentin Dubuis, Myriam Fuks, Robert Plagnol, Michel Israel

‘Un secret’ is the adaptation of the bestseller of the same name by Phillipe Grimbert, who himself guest-stars as a human smuggler. In the novel he tells the story of his parents, the protagonist François is his alter ego.

It’s not an overly penetrating film, at least not in form. No overly dramatic scenes, no bombastic music, very earthy, it is the way it is. And that’s why the drama works well, the story comes across well. A gripping story, yes. A story that resembles many stories from that time, but again not: the period that has already been widely reported in Germany and still is cinematographically, yielded few films in France. People don’t seem to be waiting for it, perhaps because of shame. Not surprising, because quite a few Jews have also been deported from France and anti-Semitism has traditionally been rampant. Time to accept the past?

No heavy black boots in this film, no soldiers on the street, no swastikas, no typical war scenes, not even Germans. Director Claude Miller knows how to circumvent it all carefully, without giving you the feeling that the war ‘doesn’t matter’. It just shows what he is all about: the personal drama, in which the war plays a decisive factor, but not the leading role. In the art direction, the image of the time could have been a bit more pronounced, precisely because the tanks and war acts are missing.

The fact of the imaginary brother is beautiful. It symbolizes exactly what François himself cannot do and thus fills the gap in his young life. Moreover, the phantom brother lifts the tip of the veil of the secret that controls his life more than he realizes. That harrowing secret trickles down into the story, which is cleverly put together.

Patrick Bruel is a kind of French Frank Sinatra, who, in addition to a glorious music career, also made a career as an actor and has built up an impressive film repertoire. He plays François’ father and does this convincingly. The rest of the cast is also not much to criticize. Julie Depardieu (yes, daughter of) was the only one who managed to cash in on one of the eight Césars (French Oscars) for which the film was nominated, with her role as François’ athletic mother.

As mentioned, the film indirectly confronts the French with the question: “where were you then …?”, But not too harshly. In the end there is nevertheless the conclusion that it was the Nazis who murdered the Jewish fellow citizens and no one else. Either way, Miller delivers a beautiful personal drama that makes you think about both the personal relationships and the context in which they were maintained. And that without literally portraying any violence of war (except for short documentary images from a camp). Well done.

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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.