“Tulpan” may be the first movie ever made that deserves an “R” rating for “graphic scenes of animal husbandry.” Set on the barren steppes of animal husbandry, there are quite a few gruesome scenes of – and quite a bit of suspense created by – sheep being born and dying. If you have a weak stomach, you might want to skip this one. If you grew up on a farm, this might be the movie you’ve been waiting for.
Theoretically, the plot goes like this: young Asa is just out of the Navy and needs a wife. The only eligible woman in a thousand (or so) miles is young Tulpan, but she thinks his ears are too big. But he can’t get a sheep herd until he gets his wife; the boss man says so. So he keeps going back, and going back, trying to convince her that a) he really loves her and will make a great husband and b)even Prince Charles has big ears.
But the plot doesn’t really go anywhere – spoiler: he never convinces her – and this would be yet another boring foreign movie about nothing if it weren’t for the light touches and character quirks that make it fun to watch. Asa’s little brother carries the radio around with him wherever he goes, and when his father comes in from the steppe, recites the news for him. His little sister sings Kazakhian hymns, sometimes for her father, and sometimes in defiance of her father, but always at the top of her lungs.
It’s the little things like this, and the sense of sly humor with which they are played – and the amazing fact that sheep giving birth really is suspenseful — that makes Tulpan a cut above most artsy foreign flicks, and worth watching. You care about the characters; they seem real, even when they’re not really doing anything except going about their lives, and trying to make life on the Kazahkistan steppe work for them.