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Tulpan

A low-key coming-of-age dramedy set in the visually dramatic Kazakhstan steppes

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Fresh from two years in the Russian navy, young Askhat (Askhat Kuchencherekov) returns to his native land, the steppes of Kazakhstan. In this remote, desolate spot, he hopes to marry the only girl around, the titular Tulpan, and settle down to a life of sheep-herding. But, in documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy's dramedy, the courtship goes poorly, despite Askhat's remarkable knowledge of how to defeat a man-eating octopus. 

So, it's back to the cramped quarters of his sister's yurt, where Askhat endures his brother-in-law's refusal to let him have his own herd. Adding to the family tension is a string of still-born lambs -- and, though it's never clearly articulated -- the pull of the modern city some hundreds of miles distant.

The film is a coming-of-age story folded into the grand sweep of a nature documentary, complete with sweeping vistas, adventures in sheep husbandry and snapshots of daily life for the traditional Kazakh shepherd. But Dvortsevoy also succumbs to the incongruous, if legitimate visual, whether it's Askhat's formal naval uniform, replete with gold braid, or the sight of an injured camel crammed into a motorcycle sidecar. 

It's a hard life on the steppes, but not without beauty and joy. Folks who were charmed by the 2004 Mongolian docu-feature The Story of the Weeping Camel should find this similarly engaging. In Kazakh, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Aug. 14. Regent Square

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