A star is born in Sergei Dvortsevoy’s bone-dry courtship comedy—specifically, a baby sheep that pops out of its bleating mother’s body. Asa (Kuchencherekov), a former sailor and bona fide failure in both love and shepherding, stumbles across this birth in progress. So the young man does what anyone would do: He grabs the slime-covered lamb, giving it a kiss of life that’s shown in real time. Let the muckymuck critics argue about the pros and cons of American neorealism; until our filmmakers can convince actors to give onscreen mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an animal fresh out of the womb, we have nothing on Central Asians.
Even though this sequence is indeed a showstopper, it’s another extraordinary shot involving beasties—specifically, livestock humping while a child confusedly observes—that’s a better distillation of nature’s attitude about randomness and randiness. When Dvortsevoy isn’t herky-jerking his camera around in order to capture Kazakhs at work, he’s constructing a deadpan narrative about sad would-be suitors, sex-obsessed sidekicks and how something as simple as big ears can deep-six potential bliss. The documentary aspects of Tulpan offer an interesting, if familiar, portrait of hardscrabble existence. It’s the fictional aspects focusing on thwarted hearts and libidos, however, that stick with you.—David Fear