Though set on the windswept, desolate steppe plains of southern Kazakhstan, director Sergey Dvortsevoy's charming romance Tulpan achieves a sublime sense of universality. In hindsight, he admits to stumbling across the films charm quite by accident.
“After I finished the film, I found that many people from many countries, say they have problems with big ears”, said the Kazakhastan-born film-maker.
The story of an arranged romance that goes awry, the remote Romeo at the centre of the acclaimed romantic tale, Asa (the delightful Askhat Kuchinchirekov) is put in his place by Tulpan (off camera, as she is never revealed in the film) who, despite having a very limited pool from which to choose her betrothed, finds an aspect of his physicality....well, too large. Asa's quest to charm Tulpan and convince her family he is worthy makes for one of the most moving and funny films of the year.
The youthful, intelligent 47-year-old filmmaker exudes the enthusiasm and passion of a director in the early stages of his career enjoying tremendous acclaim for a feature film debut; he clearly loves the artistry and craft of movie-making and the exploration of the human condition his talent allows him.
“I made this film to present this different reality, but also, very importantly, to (portray) the happiness this philosophy of life, the identity these people embrace.” That Dvortsevoy aims so high with his first film and achieves his aim so completely is a testament to his skill as a storyteller.
Trained as a radio engineer for the Russian airline Aeroflot, Dvortsevoy turned his back on a comfortable middle-class life to explore his passion for filmmaking. “I read an advert (for film school) completely by chance; I was a very latecomer to film school, I was 29. Maybe that was my advantage – I saw films for the first time and asked myself, 'Why do they make films all the same way, to the same standard?' ".
Dvortsevoy's factual-filmmaking has garnered acclaim for over a decade via festival berths in Florence, Marseille, Paris and Leipzig. His works In The Dark (2004), Highway (1999), Bread Day (1998) and Paradise (1997) are examples of what he refers to as 'life cinema'; his goal to show the simplicity and warmth of the world with a naturalistic and precise eye. Tulpan, awarded the Best Film prize at last year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards on Queensland's Gold Coast, has touched a global nerve with its purity – the film has been garnered top honours in Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Tokyo and Montreal, amongst many others.
With an enthusiasm that occasionally leaves his grasp of English behind, Dvortsevoy, visiting Sydney for the first time, spoke of his commitment to finding the truth at the heart of his characters. “I think if directors start to calculate too much they can lose spontaneous (sic). Of course, I analyse but I need to feel the situation, to feel the story, to use the actors and their own psychology,” he responded, when asked how he created the naturalism of his film. “I like to use some things that happen during the shooting. Many directors just try to follow the script, just to illustrate the script. To me, the script is just literature; a film is image.”
An extraordinary sequence that most exemplifies the filmmakers commitment to 'the moment' involves the birthing of a lamb. The character Asa, a trained naval officer, is failing terribly to impress the young lady\'s father and finds himself called upon to ensure the safe arrival of this new life. Leading man Kuchinchirekov had no experience with farm husbandry; when things went bad, it fell to him to make it right – all under the glare of Dvortsevoy's camera. “The sheep was weak; it was a very true situation. We needed to convey that this was a true life on screen, but to also make it part of the story. For me, it was very important to not just have a simple 'giving birth' scene, but to have a scene where the main character changed, and succeeded at changing.” He rolls his eyes recollecting the moment. “The crew spent three weeks following sheep. We were very lucky to catch this scene. This moment [inspired us] to open the film to the experiences of everday life and influenced the storybuilding.”
That Dvortsevoy has created such an intimate (and humourous) tale is all the more remarkable, having done so in the midst of one of the most desolate regions of the old-U.S.S.R. A vast, flat plain of sparse grassland and desert life, the Kazakhstan steppe averages five people per square kilometre and is home to wolves, badgers and spiders (“We found spiders in our shoes every day!”). Smiling broadly, Dvortsevoy remembers, “The crew lived a life very close to the nomads of the steppe. We spent a lot of time living with local shepherds; the actors lived in jurtes (the traditional tent house) one month before shooting. The way we shot the film took much time and patience from the 15-man crew.”
Tulpan has not only warmed the hearts of festival audiences – it has also impressed upon international producers the skill Sergey Dvortsevoy possesses a filmmaker. He next shoots an internationally co-funded production on the streets of Moscow.
But he is a pure filmmaker; an artist for whom individual expression and commitment to story and character is paramount. When asked his ultimate aim, his response is swift: “I realise that only my individuality can be interesting. I want to find individual stories and find my language, my film language.” The global audience awaits...
*** Palace Films and SBS Film are offering you the chance to win an in-season double-pass to see Tulpan. To be in the running to win tickets to see the fim, simply email us at email@example.com, with Tulpan in the subject line. Don\'t forget to include your postal address. Winners will be notified.***