Finding a girlfriend is difficult on the remote Kazakh steppe, where it can take a full day of travel to reach the nearest single woman. In the film Tulpan, the postpubescent protagonist Asa, freshly home from the Navy, sets out on a quest to find a wife and fulfill his dream of owning a herd of sheep. Director Sergey Dvortsevoy, who gained recognition with his 1998 documentary Bread Day, lends the film a hyper-realistic feel, allowing the humor and affection of rural Kazakhstan to linger naturally, like a slow-moving dust storm seen from a distance.
The film gives an inside-the-yurt view of Kazakhstani family life surrounded by the harsh steppe climate and depicted by many non-professional actors. Dvortsevoy told Reverse Shot magazine that the actors and crew lived together in yurts in preparation for the film. Two of the main actors and some of the child actors lived together for a month, even before the filming had started, to prepare them for the climate and to get the actors comfortable with each other. The result is a series of endearing familial scenes that feel spontaneous and unforced.
The beautiful desolation of the Kazakh countryside plays a central role in the film, as do the various sheep, dogs, and camels. One of the most talked about scenes centers around a rather graphic sheep birth that the main character is forced to perform. Considering the unplanned nature of the livestock, Dvortsevoy allowed the film to develop freely, changing the script and the film in the middle of production. He told Reverse Shot, “I didn’t try to think up a special approach, I just followed the material, followed the characters. Maybe I’ll use this approach again, we’ll see, I don’t know. It doesn’t come from calculation, from mathematics. It comes from my soul.”
You can watch a trailer for the film below: