Tulpan: A Whole Lot Of Nothing In Kazakhstan


Lots of steppe in Kazakhstan, some sheep, a few yurts and nobody to marry.  That’s the problem facing demobilised sailor Asa who has come to live with his sister Samal and brother-in-law Ondas and hope for a flock of his own.  But Comrade Boss won’t let him have one until he gets himself a wife, while the only possible candidate within a day’s journey (called Tulpan) rejects him because his ears are too big.  In vain does he produce a picture of the ‘American Prince’ Charles to show that his ears aren’t so big…

Well I know what the Kazakh steppe looks like now, and also that Kazakh appears to be a Turkic language.  But I sympathise with the sheep that having been born there decided to die as fast as possible.  In fact, given the alarming propensity of Kazakhs, sheep and camels–all right, scrub the camels–to wander soulfully around the steppe without any water nearby, I’m surprised there weren’t more fatalities.  And I was worried by the possibility of a happy ending when Asa managed to find the stray ewe and help her give birth to a live lamb, having taken a bloody long time to find out the correct method (shove your foot against the sheep’s arse and pull hard).

Why did Samal and Asa talk to each other in Russian if they were Kazakhs?  They both talk to Ondas in Kazakh, though it sounds like Russified Kazakh in Asa’s case.

So at the end Asa goes for a final confrontation with Tulpan, breaks down the door and finds…a goat (a better joke in Russian than in English).  Tulpan’s ma tells Asa she has gone to the city to get an education and a life.  In spite of this excellent example, Asa decides in the end not to rejoin civilisation but instead returns to Ondas in a sandstorm.

Sad.  Or as far as the film goes: boring.


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2 Responses to “Tulpan: A Whole Lot Of Nothing In Kazakhstan”

  1. Anna in Atlanta Says:

    I can’t speak as to whether the film is boring or not, since my DVD hasn’t arrived yet, but I can tell you that you are missing a lot of background context. Yep, the Kazakhs are a Turkic people, but during 70+ years of Soviet rule, speaking Kazakh was pretty much outlawed. During the Stalin era, something like 30% of ethnic Kazakhs died from starvation and disease because of forced collectivization (of nomadic people!). So there’s a couple of entire generations of ethnically Kazakh people who don’t speak a word of Kazakh, only Russian. And Kazakhs weren’t deported, it was everybody else (Jews, intellectuals, Koreans, Poles, etc) who were exiled IN the steppes by Stalin. Now you know why – -there’s nothing else there!

  2. notesofanidealist Says:

    Thanks. This is helpful–I’ve removed the reference to Kazakh deportations. When your DVD arrives, you might see this as a depiction of the degradation of a traditional nomadic culture, against which background Asa moves from the alien life of a sailor to reclaim his cultural heritage. But to me it looked more like the patronising-sentimental Soviet treatment of the traditions and folkways of various peoples.

    And while Asa and Samal converse in Russian, Samal’s children speak (only) Kazakh and sing traditional Kazakh songs, so you could see this as another sign of redemption. And perhaps having chosen the city shows that Tulpan is *unworthy* of Asa?

    The reason I was worried about Asa and Samal conversing in Russian is that they speak Kazakh to Ondas, though Asa’s Kazakh seems to contain a lot of Russian words. (One of the newsreaders on Radio Kazakhstan also seemed to me to be speaking Kazakh with a pronounced Russian accent.)

    Or you could see the film as representing a choice for Asa between Ondas and his pal Boni who drives a truck (decorated with pictures cut from magazines and playing a Boney M tape very loudly) delivering things and is keen to escape elsewhere as soon as possible; so some kind of reconciliation is achieved when Boni agrees to take the strayed ewe and her lamb in his truck while at the end Asa leaves Boni’s truck in which he was intended to go away and returns to Ondas.

    I’d be careful of the language = ethnicity equation: the inhabitants of Turkey speak a Turkic language but I don’t think you’d call them a Turkic people.

    As to the film being boring: I was bored, and there were 3 people in all in the auditorium, of whom one left after 45 minutes, so I wasn’t alone in being bored. I’ll be interested to know what you think once your DVD arrives!

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