Posted by schnolis on May 27th, 2009 filed in Reviews

TUPLANThe Kazakh Steppe is one of the most desolate places I’ve ever seen on film. The world there is a flat, unadorned landscape stretching as far as you can see. Nothing obstructs your view: no hills, trees, shrubs taller than a few inches or man made structures except the small one-room huts the herding people live in. There is no privacy, very little technology, and no idle time to spend on trivial pursuits. Dust storms kick up without warning and braying, smelly animals are a constant nuisance.

For some reason, though, Asa has a dream of making a life tbere. He’s a retired sailer staying with his sister Samal who is married to a herder working on the barren steppe. Her husband Ondas won’t give Asa any sheep to start his own flock until Asa is married. A wife is key to survival there–essential chores, cooking, and childcare must be performed while the animals are cared for. He is interested in the only single young woman in the area, Tulpan. She is the daughter of another herding couple, but she is not interested in Asa. Her mother is set against him because he has no job and isn’t a sufficiently accomplished suitor for her daughter.

Asa doesn’t have the experience or the temperament for the work. Whenever he’s tasked with helping birth the sheep that experience problems, he is repelled by the gritty requirements of the process. Ondas pushes him, but instead of driving him to become better at the job, it incites Asa to consider leaving. He sets off to make his own way in the world several times, drawn back by a connection to be his sister, the only family he knows. He dreams for bigger things, a fulfilled and important life, but the harsh reality of his environment keeps getting in his way.

What I liked: The compelling pull of family, of belonging, of sharing a bond with those like us. The movie is gorgeous, a canvas of surreal landscapes and experiences. The claustrophobic feel of life in the yurt, the one-room tent, was palpable and real even in the theater.

What I disliked: Asa’s constant ambivalence became tiring after a while. Movies about indecisive characters are difficult to maintain. I felt his challenges were sincere, but it was personally painful to watch. I felt like shouting at him to run, to find his own way, to seek his fortune on his own terms. In real life failure is a common outcome.

Rating: 7 of 10

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