Though the word remains untranslated in the film’s English subtitles, Tulpan—the title of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s first dramatic feature—means “tulip.” It is also, of course, the name of the object of protagonist Asa’s desire, a beloved glimpsed only once, through the slats of a goat-pen (and not at all by the viewer). “God, is she beautiful!” exclaims Asa, a former sailor who dreams of being a shepherd with a flock, family, and yurt of his own on the vast flatlands of the Betpak-Dala (also known as the Hunger Steppe) of southern-central Kazakhstan. No tulip will grow here, so Asa scratches a crude drawing of one into the dry earth of the steppe, and later, with a ballpoint pen, he draws one on the underside of the collar of his sailor’s uniform, where he has similarly depicted all the things he longs for.
Dreams and aspirations linger below the dusty surface of Tulpan, and each of its characters expresses a secret desire for something that seems to lie just beyond the arid landscape’s distant horizon. Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith’s review of Tulpan.