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Day 5: Biffes, 2009

The first reference I went to while watching Goran Markovic’s The Tour was Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land. Former Yugoslavia and war.

When a group of Serbian actors and their van driver enter a war-torn area where they are to perform a play, bombs go off on either side of the narrow road. Completely shocked and devastated, the actors do not know that there is worse to come yet.

The play and its troupe is repeatedly ridiculed as the warring factions demand much more from the actors. Caught in the three-way muddle between the Serbs, Croats and Bosinians, the actors go over many questions on war and art, just as they shuttle between being dry humourists and sentimental peaceniks.

I felt this was where the film ran into trouble. The art vs war or good art vs evil art postures are too obvious and play completely against the grain of the film’s premise. The dryness remains throughout the film but the humour is lost as if it was something easily expendable for the sake of an anti-war sermon. As a proof, when after winning over all war-mongers with luck and their art, they begin to go back by the same road, they are just too used to the bombings on either side of the road that they hardly wink this time and also, maybe, they have grown too big for the dry humour they earlier had.

No Man’s Land never lost that humour and it was a far grimmer tale.

The next film was Tulpan, a Kazhakstan movie. The first scene where a man comes asking for a bride and the lonely landscape of the steppe, reminded me of Tuya’s Marriage. The camels did too. And just as Tuya’s Marriage was, Tulpan is a very good film, if only a bit drier.

Tulpan is a character we don’t see in the film. She is the bride who refuses (or is forced to refuse by her mother) Asa, the sailor who wants to settle down in the steppe, own a flock of sheep and have a TV and a dish antenna which would show more than 900 channels.

He comes to live with his sister, brother-in-law and their three talented children. The elder boy listens to the news on Kazakh Radio all day and remembers everything to recite to his father in the evening. The girl is an excellent singer and the youngest one is a precocious prankster.

There is hardly anything that can be outlined as a story here. More a chronicle of a few days in the herdsmen’s life in Kazhakstan, the simplicity of the narrative is perfectly compelemented by the actors.

Any touch of sentimentality is overwhelmed by the humour and matter-of-factness. The scene where the veterinary doctor checks on a sheep while keeping an eye on an agressive camel is hilarious.

When Asa ditches his plan to go to the city by deciding to realise his dream of flourishing in the steppe, we know as he knows that there is no Tulpan for him to marry. Yet, as his sister says, there might be someone else he finds. Its as simple as that.

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