Kazakh documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy’s first fiction feature “Tulpan,” which premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is being released on DVD today by Zeitgeist Films. “Tulpan” follows Asa home after his service in the Russian Navy. Starting his life over as a shepherd, Asa decides he must get married. There is only one problem: only one girl lives within miles. It is up to Asa and his friend to convince the reclusive Tulpan’s parents to permit her hand in marriage. It stands as one of the best reviewed films of this year or last. The film won major awards at Cannes, Zurich, Tokyo, and more.
J. Hoberman, in the Village Voice leads the pack in praising the film and its sheen, “As fluid as ‘Tulpan’ seems, it’s painstakingly constructed out of a series of observed moments, staged interactions, and precisely dubbed sounds. Call it cacophonous minimalism. Everything makes noise—camels snort, sheep bleat, people declaim, machines sputter. This funkball pantheism suffuses the narrative. ‘Tulpan’ has a very simple story, but it’s a continuously mysterious experience—at once direct and oblique and very much a show. The penultimate scene of Ondas and Samal pulling down their yurt suggests the striking of a set. The comedy is beyond absurd. When Asa finally does confront Tulpan, she’s a she-goat.”
Focusing on Dvortsevoy’s talents gained from his days in documentary film, Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum comments, “There’s no room for mush in filmmaker Sergey Dvortsevoy’s triumphant, intimate drama, not when the necessities of daily life are so elemental, and so tenderly observed.” Noel Murray, in The A.V. Club, lists all of the film’s attributes, “At times, ‘Tulpan’ feels like an odd hybrid of old-fashioned domestic melodrama and a slow-paced slice-of-life. And some of Dvortsevoy’s quirky character touches—like the way Kuchinchirekov’s best friend decorates his tractor with pornography, or how Kuchinchirekov draws his dreams on the back of his sailor’s collar—come off as broad. But ‘Tulpan’ is to a large degree about how the old ways of the nomads are dying out as people flee to the cities, so the tug between filmmaking styles makes some sense.”
In a sardonic endorsement of “Tulpan,” Roger Ebert tries everything, “I swear to you that if you live in a place where this film is playing, it is the best film in town. You’ll enjoy it, not soon forget it, and you’ll tell your friends about it and try to persuade them to go, but you’ll have about as much luck with them as I’m probably having with you. Still, there has to come a time in everyone’s life when they see a deadpan comedy about the yurt dwellers of Kazakhstan.” Dan Kois, in The Washington Post is in a similar mood, saying, “Sure, for many viewers, accidentally walking into a showing of “Tulpan” would be a 10-minute nightmare of tractors and bad haircuts, followed by a 90-minute nap. To certain serious world-cinema aficionados, though, ‘Tulpan”s combination of understated comedy and documentary-level depiction of rural Kazakh life will be catnip.”