Why does ReadTheSpirit celebrate the Jewish High Holidays? The vast majority of the world’s population is not Jewish.
Why do we highlight a brave group of 100 men and women on Chicago’s south side walking through the streets of their community to pray? The vast majority of our readers don’t live in Chicago.
We do this because the most powerful spiritual wisdom connects us across time, space and culture with other valuable lives and ideas that enrich our own journeys.
That’s why you really should see “Tulpan,” the latest release from Zeitgeist Films that throws open a window to a universally enjoyable story of life in Kazakhstan. Our headline today encourages us all to “enjoy wisdom,” because a movie like “Tulpan” is not a stodgy travelogue. It’s a lively and bittersweet tale of a plucky young fellow, Asa, who returns home after serving in the navy to restart his life in his tiny “hometown.” Of course, in Asa’s case, his “hometown” is in the midst of a vast land-locked territory as featureless as some of the landscapes in John Ford Westerns.
Transporting this tale into American cinema, this might be a cross between a heartwarming Jimmy Stewart drama and the cultural restlessness of “American Graffiti.”
To be honest, though, I can’t recall Jimmy Stewart appearing in a movie with camels. And, unlike “American Graffiti,” you won’t find yourself singing along with most of the songs in “Tulpan”—except one.
Roger Ebert tried to make a similar point about “Tulpan,” back when the movie was showing in a handful of theaters nationwide. Roger called the film “amazing” and ticked off its moments of universal appeal. But he also described this exotic landscape as: “An unfamiliar world; it might as well be Mars. This is a place where the horizon is a straight line against the sky in every direction. There are no landmarks, no signs, no roads.”
Then, Roger concludes: “I swear to you that if you live in a place where this film is playing, it is the best film in town.”
I’m hauling in my Chicago-based colleague’s advice here to stress that this isn’t just ReadTheSpirit running off in a flight of spiritual fancy. There’s something marvelously engaging in throwing open windows to distant lands—where the grassroots wisdom sometimes seems mighty close to home.
Tulpan means “Tulip”—an exceedingly rare sight in this landscape. It’s the name of a girl—perhaps the last available girl in this dusty, wind-swept little “town” on the steppe. The name, the girl and the flower all become symbols of young Asa’s dreams.
When Asa first approaches Tulpan, she rebuffs him by saying that
his ears are too big. Naturally, he becomes obsessed with his ears. I
won’t spoil the gentle humor as he tries to resolve the ear issue—but
even his friends get into the act with “proof” that his ears aren’t too
Why doesn’t Asa just kick the dust off his boots and head to the big city like a lot of other young people from the steppes? Because, God bless him, he actually loves this place.
He wants to settle down, become a farmer himself, raise a family and watch the stars at night from his own little place—which he explains to Tulpan would be called a “ranch” in the West. He’s even got his ideal ranch sketched on the inside of his collar to remind him of his “dream
to build a little corner of paradise like this—under the starry skies
of the Kazakh steppe.”
Is this story sounding a bit more familiar?
Well, when you see Asa and his buddy joy riding across the steppe in what passes for their hot rod, you’ll recognize them perhaps as a couple of high-spirited young cowboys tearing across the Great Plains or maybe a couple of teenagers with souped-up cars roaring down a 1950s two-lane highway.
There’s even an overly wise younger brother in this story—a staple in American sitcoms, of course—who somehow has obtained a portable radio that he cradles protectively and uses so that he can proudly proclaim the world’s headlines to the rest of his family. He drives his family nuts, for example, after a back-breaking roundup of the flocks, as this little know-it-all proclaims things like: “The fate of Kazakhstan’s oil field was discussed at the economic forum in Switzerland.”
We know this kind of character from countless American TV shows, don’t we?
“Tuplan” is a fictional story—not a documentary. But, a major part of the movie’s charm is that Director Sergey Dvortsevoy filmed the entire movie in documentary style.
What does that mean? Well, when we see dust storms rising on these plains, they aren’t special effects like in the Woody Guthrie story, “Bound for Glory”—they’re the reality of life on the steppe and presumably even the actors and crew lived through these bracing conditions.
And, the dusty, bolted-together contraptions people drive around the steppe? These may look like Mad-Max-style vehicles, but they weren’t toggled together in a special-effects garage. These are what people really drive around the steppe.
Why is ReadTheSpirit encouraging you to seek out this new Zeitgeist movie?
Come on, now. Tell us what you think about all this.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)