Tulpanby J. Hoberman
The first feature by the Russian ethno-documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy and winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Tulpan is a fiction founded on a powerful sense of place. That place, the vast nowhere void of southern Kazakhstan, could easily be another planet. Dvortsevoy has populated the inhospitable terrain of the so-called Hunger Steppe with actors who lived as nomadic sheepherders during the course of the shoot. As fluid as Tulpan seems, it's painstakingly constructed out of a series of observed moments, staged interactions and precisely dubbed sounds. Everything makes noise — camels snort, sheep bleat, people declaim, machines sputter — without any particular hierarchy. Life's defining attribute is what Americans might call cussedness. And if there's anyone more stubborn than Dvortsevoy's characters, it's the filmmaker himself — camping out and waiting months for the precise weather conditions to shoot a particular scene. In every respect, this unclassifiable movie is an amazing accomplishment.