Verdict: An unforgettable experience
Full disclosure: I am a complete sucker for films set in that broad sweep of land between the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator and the Caucasus - broadly speaking, Genghis Khan's 13th-century empire.
In those bleak and dusty highlands of blistering summers and perishing winters, locations best suited to sci-fi, cinematic magic is performed. The environment rules the shooting schedule, so what emerges is a kind of dramatised ethnography in which the exigencies of day-to-day life, rather than a script, may dictate the next shot or scene.
So it is with this unassuming and utterly enchanting Kazakh film, a stylistic descendant of the 80-year-old Nanook of the North that will delight audiences who flocked to The Story of the Weeping Camel and The Cave of the Yellow Dog.
Yet Tulpan is a better film than either of those, because it has not a trace of cuteness or condescension. It is often, and not always deliberately, very funny and it has a very plain narrative direction, but writer-director Dvortsevoy has the intuitive eye - and, crucially, the patience - of a documentarian. So he takes his time, allowing himself (and us) to be entranced by a mini-tornado or a pattern of sunlight.
The result is a film that is virtually unclassifiable (narrative documentary? ethnographic drama?) but will assuredly be one of the most remarkable you will see this year.
The story revolves around the woman of the title, who, perversely, never appears on screen.
She's the object of the affections of Asa (Kuchinchirekov), newly discharged from the navy and arriving in this profoundly landlocked place with hilariously improbable (well, fictional) stories of his adventures, including wrestling a giant octopus. Asa is living with his sister Samal (Yeslyamova) and her resentful husband, Ondas (Besikbasov), who is keen to see him married off if only to get him out of the house (well, yurt).
The clash between these two, together with Asa's quixotic courtship of Tulpan plays out against a documentary backdrop that at times looms larger than the story.
The high point is a climactic scene in which a lamb is born, because it's both crucial to the story and self-evidently unrehearsed. Art and life intersect triumphantly. But there's scarcely a moment that is not jaw-dropping or eye-popping in this quite extraordinary film.
Cast: Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Samal Yeslyamova, Ondasyn Besikbasov, Tulepbergen Baisakalov
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy
Running time: 100 mins
Rating: M (offensive language, nudity) In Kazakh and Russian with English subtitles Verdict: