The first feature by Russian ethno-documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy is a fiction founded on a powerful sense of place—and that place, namely the vast nowhere void of southern Kazakhstan, could easily be another planet. The movie is not so much a documentary as it is a dramatic account of a documentary situation. Absence is the operating principle. The movie takes its name from the never-seen object of our hero's affections—evidently the only marriageable maiden in the territory. Dvortsevoy populates the inhospitable terrain of the so-called Hunger Steppe with actors who lived as nomadic sheepherders during the course of the shoot. (Askhat Kuchencherekov plays the luckless Asa.) 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.
Kazakhstan stars as itself.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., June 26–Thurs., July 2. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.