Sergei Dvortsevoy (Kazakhstan/Switzerland/
Honorably discharged from the Russian navy, Asa returns home to the Hunger Steppe of southern Kazakhstan and sets about fulfilling his life goals of getting married, building his own yurt, and becoming a successful shepherd. At first his odds seem good—he boasts the distinction of having been a top marksman in the navy, can spout worldly knowledge on the horrors of octopi and the wonder of solar panels, and is bucking the trend of most rural Kazakh youth, who increasingly forgo farm life in favor of urban opportunity. Asa’s carefully laid plans begin to unravel when he visits the barren region’s only eligible maiden—the mysteriously wordless Tulpan (whose name means tulip)—to ask for her hand. She refuses via her parents, who claim she takes issue with Asa’s large ears. The blow is considerable—not only are his romantic advances rebuffed, but his boss refuses to grant him a promised herd of sheep until he weds. Further complicating things is the painful discovery that he lacks any innate talent for animal husbandry, a fact his brother-in-law (patriarch of his host family) is never shy to bring up. Throughout, Asa retains a dogged determination to see his dreams through, but it remains unclear whether good intentions alone will suffice to survive as a nomadic herder. Director Sergei Dvortsevoy’s light touch and decided penchant for naturalism result in an organic tale that easily tilts from humor to melancholy, while constantly reveling in the simple poetry of the everyday.
• Written by Dvortsevoy, Gennady Ostrovskiy. Photographed by Jola Dylewska. With Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Bereke Turganbayev, Ondasyn Besikbasov, Samal Yeslyamova. (100 mins)