Tulpan (Тюльпан) is an award-winning 2008 comedy-drama by Kazakh director Sergey Dvortsevoy (Сергей Дворцевой). The film was Kazakhstan’s official submission to the 2009 Academy Awards’ Foreign Language Film category. It also won Best Film at the second annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards that same year, as well as a Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
The plot of the film follows the daily troubles of Asa (Askhat Kuchincherekov/Асхат Кучинчереков), a recently discharged Russian sailor who is now living on the remote Kazakh steppe along with his sister Samal (Samal Yeslyamova/Самал Еслямова), her husband Ondas (Ondasyn Besikbasov/Ондасын Бесикбасов), and their three children. Dreaming of becoming a herdsman and owning his own ranch on the steppe, Asa believes that he must first marry. He begins to pursue Tulpan, the only eligible bachelorette in the area and the daughter in a neighboring family. Her parents, however, are unwilling to allow their young daughter to marry an unemployed man with apparently no life prospects, in whom their daughter has shown little interest. The film follows Asa in his attempts, alongside his girlie-mag-reading best friend Boni (Tolepbergen Baisakalov/Толепберген Байсакалов), to impress Tulpan’s parents and and win her affection.
In developing the film, Dvortsevoy, a Kazakhstan native, sought to portray the barrenness of the Kazakh steppe and the lives of the people who live there. Dvortsevoy traveled for several months through Kazakh villages in search of the right actors, whom he had live together in a yurt for a month before filming began. According to Dvortsevoy, 20 percent of the finished film came from the script, while the other 80 percent came about through a real-time rewriting of the original script based on the conditions that arose on the set. He says that all the emotional scenes were rehearsed without dialogue and only performed in their entirety at the time of filming. Samal Yeslyamova, who played Asa’s sister, was the only professional actor of the entire cast—andshe was just nineteen years old at the time of filming. Askhat Kuchinchirekov, who played Asa, was still a film student at the time Tulpan was being made.
The film received mixed reviews. While it reached a rating of 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was highly praised by Roger Ebert, the Kazakh government sharply criticized the film, arguing that it presented an even worse picture of Kazakhstan than did Borat. Internationally the film was a great success, winning a number of prestigious awards.
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy (Сергей Дворцевой)
Stars: Askhat Kuchincherekov (Асхат Кучинчереков), Samal Yeslyamova (Самал Еслямова), Ondasyn Besikbasov (Ондасын Бесикбасов)
Production Company: Zeitgeist Films
Box Office Take: $156,331