This sweet and surprisingly funny piece of neo-realism, about a determined man’s quest for purpose on the steppes of Kazakhstan, should be mandatory viewing for anyone whose knowledge of the world’s largest landlocked country is limited to Borat. The narrative debut of acclaimed ethno-documentarian Sergei Dvortsevoy sets its casual tone early with a courtship meeting during which Asa, an aspiring shepherd and former navy man, tries to impress his intended’s parents with tips on how to subdue an octopus. He’s rejected, and the film follows Asa as he attempts to establish his career and woo the elusive Tulpan—and neither is possible without the other. The broad comic relief of Asa’s enthusiastic buddy, who travels the dusty land on a tractor covered in porn, offsets the grueling work of the shepherds, who are dealing with a mysterious disease causing stillborn lambs. (The birthing scenes are phenomenal.) Handheld cameras capture the skilled performances of the mostly nonprofessional cast, celebrating a thrillingly nomadic way of life that’s dying.
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy
Producer: Karl Baumgartner and Thanassis Karathanos
Cast: Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Samal Esljamova, Ondas Besikbasov, Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Bereke Turganbayev and Mahabbat Turganbayeva