Pleasure Factory (2007) 快樂工場

Country: Singapore, Thailand
Language: Mandarin, Tagalog, English, Cantonese
Theme: Romance/Erotica
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Starring: Yang Kuei-mei, Ananda Everingham, Loo Zihan, Katashi Chen, Jeszlene Zhou

Ratings: IMDb: 5.1/10

Film Festivals:
2007 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard (official selection)
2007 Pusan International Film Festival

Awards: N/A
Nominations: N/A

This is a film that is notable for truly blurring the lines of national ownership. It fully embraces the age of cross-border collaboration and ownership. The director is Ekachai Uekrongtham, a Thai theatre and film director who is based in Singapore and is the founding artistic director of local theatre company ACTION Theatre. His repertoire includes the popular stage musical Chang & Eng. The film is set in Singapore, in particular, its red light district of Geylang. But among the film’s financers are Singapore-based Spicy Apple Films and the Hong Kong-Netherlands company Fortissimo Films aside from Singapore’s InnoForm Media. Amongst the multi-national cast is Taiwanese starlet Yang Kuei-mei (who has appeared in Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) and Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)). There is up-and-coming actor Ananda Everingham, who has appeared in the Thai horror film Shutter (2004) and the Singapore production The Leap Years (2008), and he himself though born in Thailand, is of Laotian-Australian nationalities. There is also Singaporean writer-director (and ADM alumni) Loo Zihan.

I opted to classify the film both under Thailand and Singapore. Singapore, primarily because there is definitely no shying away from the fact that the story is based there. And Thailand because of Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Thai roots that definitely becomes pertinent in his direction of this film. Unless helmed by Loo Zihan himself, one of the few Singapore directors who is open about his homosexuality and about discussing controversial themes in his movies, Pleasure Factory would certainly have taken a wholly different angle. Uekrongtham’s involvement, however, has lead to an unusual masterpiece in South-East Asian cinema that embraces traditionally taboo topics such as prostitution, same-sex relationships, and that features explicit male nudity. The film was selected under the Un Certain Regard section of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Pleasure Factory revolves around three distinct stories set around the theme of “pleasure seekers and pleasure providers”. They involve the young army cadet, Jonathan (Loo Zihan) who wants to make the passage to manhood by engaging the services of a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, a young teenage girl (Isabella Chen) who gets initiated into the monotonous pleasure-manufacturing process of the brothel, and the jaded prostitute, Linda (Yang Kuei-Mei) who pays a young busker for a song that he never gets to sing. These three stories are later united as the characters visit the same roadside stall, a characteristic feature of Geylang.

The film’s cinema vérité shooting style adds to the realism and spontaneity of the film. Despite its provocative theme or title, the film does not sensationalize or offer gratuitous amounts of nudity just for the sake of it. Neither does it border on cliché eroticism; instead what we get is the characters moving around in the genuine environment of Geylang. We as viewers are captivated by their emotional conflicts and turmoil rather than what goes on outside. An example is a key scene where Jonathan “prepares” himself while the female prostitute takes a shower. We are treated to a full three-minute sequence of the nude man shifting his body into different positions and trying to stimulate himself for her. His insecurities that are purveyed through these little actions are what makes the film so real – it pays attention to the minute details and does not attempt to gloss over any perculiarities or trivial habits. The lack of stylistic perspectives that typical films use makes Pleasure Factory a very raw and compelling watch. Further, a heavy reliance on visual language creates a minimalist feel.

Further, there is a notable lack of dialogue and music throughout the course of the film, probably to help in the creation of a more realistic feel and also add to the emotional tension between the characters. The director of Pleasure Factory says in an interview, “To me, what was really nice was the silence, the silences at the right time, because I think the film requires you to be part of the process. What we try to do is to make a film that allows the audiences to discover at the same time as the characters.” (Tan, 2007).

But the film does not focus solely on the sex trade plying around Geylang that has given the district its notoriety. Rather, it proffers a multitude of perspectives, befitting as Geylang is not just about the prostitutes. It’s a bustling and thriving community of people, driven by the desire to survive and make ends meet, and this multitude of perspectives is conveyed through the different characters and stories entwined throughout the entire film.

A personal qualm is that the movie comes across as rather disjointed at times. Midway through the movie, for instance, Uekrongtham inserted two excerpts of interviews he did with real people who work in Geylang via a documentary style footage. This sticks out of the running narrative like a sore thumb, There does not appear to be any clear motivation surrounding for doing so, and neither did it run in congruence with the rest of the film. It is, however, tempting to postulate that this is because of the need to pander to international audiences, and to bring them further into Geylang as a community.

Finally, the open-ended narrative style adopted runs the risk of viewers failing to develop any sense of emotional attachment with the characters. Rather, the viewer is the aloof onlooker that judges and criticizes without any feeling or empathy. This is a pity as emotional engagement is important to relate to the characters in any film. At the end of the day, Pleasure Factory may come across as being too vague and aloof, stylistically brilliant but lacking a certain innate oomph.

References

Tan, V. (2007, May 27). Channel NewsAsia: Singapore film on Geylang sex workers debuts to full house at Cannes. Retrieved on December 2, 2010, from: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/entertainment/view/278745/1/.html


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Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (2000) 오! 수정

Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Theme: Romance/Erotica
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Lee Eun-ju, Moon Sung-keun

Ratings: IMDB: 7.0/10

Film Festivals:
2000 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard
2000 Asia-Pacific Film Festival (APFF)
2000 Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF)
2001 Singapore International Film Festivkal (SIFF)

Awards:
2000 APFF Best Screenplay
2000 TIFF Asian Film Award: Special Mention
2000 TIFF Special Jury Prize

Nominated:
2001 SIFF Silver Screen Award for Best Asian Feature Film

This film by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo is a comedy-drama that is significant for its use of black & white cinematography, a rarity—and a quirky trait even—given the modern day color cinematic technologies. Yet another unique editing feature is how this movie is packaged in the form of a novel, with chapters and sub-chapters separating each disparate portion of the film. Parallel editing structures are used, with the core of the movie revolving around the courtship and romance of art gallery owner Jae-Hoon (Moon Sung-keun) and scriptwriter Soo-jung (Lee Eun-ju).

We see identical scenes occurring in Chapter One (Day’s Wait) and Chapter Four (Naught Shall Go Ill When You Find Your Mare), but taking on different perspectives in each chapter. The movie opens from Jae-Hoon’s perspective and casts light on his inner desires, before adopting Soo-jung’s perspective of the affair in the later half of the movie. There are slight differences in the recount on both parts, and what actually happened is, really, anyone’s guess. But this also means that identical scenes are featured in the film, with identical dialogue, such as at 06:11, the scene outside the art gallery. Further, the hotel room conversation at 04:10 is recaptured at 55:40, albeit from a different perspective. The first scene captures Jae-hoon with Soo-jung over the phone while the latter captures Soo-jung with Jae-hoon over the phone, whilst Hong intersperses this scene with a cutaway of Jae-hoon sitting by the coffee table in his hotel room to crystalise and exemplify the concept.

The still shot at 11:00 as we see Jae-hoon and several students staring and gossiping about something that is occurring in the distance. We can only focus on their gaze that leads beyond the camera. We soon realize it is a film scene, and the camera cuts away to Soo-jung walking down a path, framed towards the extreme right of the picture. This pivotal scene which involves Soo-jung picking up the winter gloves Jae-hoon accidentally left behind is repeated later on, albeit from Soo-jung’s point of view of picking up the winter gloves.

Jae-hoon makes his feelings known to Soo-jung through a forced kiss at 18:17, a clandestine action that goes on behind the back of their mutual friend Young-soo, who also has the hots for Soo-jung. Hong uses an off-center framing as Soo-jung warily follows the male protagonist, who wanted to show her something interesting and funny, down the very dark alleyway. She stops and hides in the shadows, before slowly backing towards the light and waiting. This creates an impression that even though she knows her actions are perhaps improper deep down, she was ready to commit to Jae-hoon in spite of all that she is vocally saying. If she wasn’t commital, Hong would perhaps have made the directorial decision to have Soo-jung turn around and walk away, or remain cast in the shadows to create a greater sense of rape, forced action and secrecy.

At 28:25 she volunteers to be his girlfriend only when he drinks – and this is shown through his more humane and less eccentric ways when he is slightly tipsy. The camera remains still and focused on the faces of the two characters as the taxi brings them to their destination – a cutaway shows them in a park sharing an intimate moment, in the shadows – an indication of Jae-hoon’s wish for the relationship to remain discrete (28:40). The scene is absolutely silent save for the ambient chirping of crickets in the background. Contrast this with Soo-jung’s later interpretation of the two sharing an intimate moment in the lighted foreground, an indication of a will to be open about their relationship (1:24:13)

Yet there are several cinematic decisions that has left me baffled. While differences in story plot and actions do prevail throughout the story, there are other minor differences that confused me and I can’t determine their significance to the study. For instance, in the dinner scene at 07:41, we see a still camera frame as the characters discuss paintings and the trust the two male characters place on each other. The three characters in the foreground are in focus while two other customers fill the empty space in the background with their meal. Yet the scene that directly complements it at 1:03:07 shows that the customers have left and the shop assistant clearing up the dirty dishes instead — could this be sheer happenstance, a discontinuity that was overlooked?Also, by my film notes (and unless I have really been quite inattentive), Jae-Hoon (the name of the male protagonist)’s name was only introduced midway through the show – but I am unable to make of any reason for it.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors is ultimately a very sexually suggestive movie with dialogue littered with sexual innuendoes and plenty of sexually-charged scenes throughout the film. Soo-jung, for instance, is accustomed to not wearing a bra during winter, and the camera captures via a medium shot both the tender action of Jae-hoon licking her nipples and the violent thrusts of Soo-jung masturbating the latter mid-way through the movie. Soo-jung is a virgin who throughout the film appears unwilling to give up her virginity to Jae-hoon. The camera captures his hand strategically placed under her skirt, and the audience can logically complete the mental image that he is feeling up her vagina. Examples of suggestive dialogue exchanges in the movie include: “This is all you want to do” / “You’ve got my breasts, haven’t you?”. Later on, there are lines such as: “I want to suck your whole body. Every inch. I want to sleep with you.” “Really?” “Yes” “I want to do it too”. Lastly, we know Soo-Jung gives up her virginity through the violent thrusting action of anal sex in one of the climactic scenes. Jae-hoon guides her along as she screams in pain, making sure he remains conscious throughout the process to prevent the error of calling out a wrong name as he did earlier.

Yet there is a notable absence of one cinematic device that has frequently been used to convey the sexually-fuelled scenes: that of cigarettes and the act of smoking. Rather, Hong opts for a more linguistic and visual approach than such a semiotic function. Testament to the quirky nature of the film is the light-hearted soundtrack that is used virtually throughout the film, ranging from the light-hearted children’s folk beats as the credit rolls at the start of the film, as well as the music used whilst transcending the different chapters.

It is unfortunate that leading female actress Lee Eun-ju would commit suicide five years after the release of this film following her involvement in The Scarlet Letter (2004). Passing on virtually at the peak of her career at the age of 24 following notable performances in Brotherhood (2004), The Scarlet Letter (2004), Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001) and this film, I cannot help but wonder if she will one day take on the legendary prominence and impact that Ruan Ling-yu had on the Hong Kong film industry in the 1930s. Granted that Ruan Ling-yu was much more prolific in the number of films she was involved in, both stars are similar in their realistic portrayals of subtle nuances in everyday characters. Yet whether the huge churn of actors and actresses today would have rendered such a death insignificant and perhaps even forgettable remains to be seen.

The Forsaken Land (2005) La Terre Abandonnée / Sulanga Enu Pinisa

Country: Sri Lanka
Director: Vimukthi Jayasundara
Language: Sinhala
Runtime: 108 minutes
Starring: Kaushalaya Fernando, Nilupili Jayawardena, Hemasiri Liyanage, Saumya Liyanage
Theme: War

Ratings: IMDb.com: 6.1/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

Film Festivals:
2005 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard

Awards:
2005 Cannes Film Festival: Camera D’Or
2005 Cinefan – Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema: Asian and Arab Competition Special Jury Award

Vimukthi Jayasundara is a young Sri Lankan director currently residing in Paris in a cross-border product that is very much French and Sri Lankan. In director interviews he has mentioned the much venerated Sri Lankan auteur Lester James Peries whose films like the Cannes Palme d’Or nominated Rekava (1957) often depict family life amidst rural settings and featuring conflicted characters. But the stunning cinematography comes across as a form influenced by French Surrealism instead, unflinching in its capture of the vast desolate landscape that harbors a tragic aura of death. This, a metaphysical consequence of a disquieting landscape brought about only by the scars of decades of civil war. The peace is ominous and perhaps even fragile, and “men and women drift through life as if they were ghosts, casualties of a civil war that hangs over them like a curse” (Dargis, 2006) in a state of “suspended animation” (Acquarello, 2008).

The movie opens with a folk instrument soundtrack, and a man is captured strolling around vast open plains. He walks out and back into the frame several times, each time nearer the camera until he turns around. The non-diagetic background music cuts off, with only the remnants being the chilling, billowing sound of the wind, an undertone of the disquieting sense of the movie. The land is “forsaken”, and hence a metaphorical assumption is how it has been abandoned by God. Not a heavenly being watches over the land, and the characters are left in a struggle to fend for themselves in a military-guarded area. But the characters still believe apparently, though whether or not this is a front is anyone’s guess. The husband utters, “I believe in Buddha and the Gods, and go on a pilgrimate each year.” His counterpart adds that he wants to fly a helicopter as it is tantamount to “making love to God” (27:40). The wife has sex with another man in the lush Sri Lankan jungle, and the spying sister bites into a fruit, as a seeming reference to Adam & Eve (33:35), and the inherent lust and temptation.

The camera harshly captures seemingly everyday actions of the wife washing her feet, as seen from outside the toilet. She undresses, and washes herself (05:37). She leaves home and stares motionless at a military tank rolling past her home (07:31), and the tank repositions its barrel. The mise-en-scene at 10:05 has the camera position the frame in the same way as its opening cene. The wife backfaces the camera and the husband pays no attention to her whatsoever. The first words are uttered only at 12:48, when a war veteran says to his younger counterpart, “Forgive me, I’ve been drinking”. This wasn’t even a conversation as the words prompted the latter to walk away, and out of the frame. Nudity is prevalent, providing a hint to the sexual undertones of the scene. The sister, for instance, stands entirely naked by the window grille and glances outside.

The characters seem emotionally vacant, and their relationships virtually barren and superfluous below the surface. A boy stares at his kite stuck amid the trees, and the veteran soldier attempts to retrieve it. Failing which, he simply walks away (52:52). The director does away with explicit explanations, and the only implicit assumption to be made is that they have been devastated due to the harsh realities of the war. We know there is a husband-wife pair living with the husband’s sister. The wife hates her sister-in-law, and the palpable tension crackles. And while they ignore each other, their bottled stresses unleash as the wife seeks solace by having sex with another man in the forest while the sister-in-law acts as the village vigilante and whistleblower. There is very ltitle interaction amid the characters with long-established relationships, and the characters are singular in many scenes. The old veteran, for instance, upon being humiliated by a team of young guards, lies naked on the field and waits for a thunderstorm to hit; the camera panning over his naked butt (43:10). The characters simply observe, without engaging much with each other, and Jayasundara invites the audience to join in. As such, due to the visceral notion of the film, there is scant dialogue, plenty of long takes, and minimal plot and action as the overwhelming atmosphere and setting take center focus amid the strong sexual undertones. An austere façade of serenity, the viewer is brought through a voyeuristic process that pries at what lies beneath this stillness.

References

Acquarello (2008). Notes on the Cinema Stylographer: The Forsaken Land (2005). Retrieved on November 7, 2010, from http://www.filmref.com/notes/archives/2008/08/the_forsaken_land_2005.html.

Dargis, M. (2006, June 23). Movie ReviewThe Forsaken Land (2005). Retrieved on November 7, 2010, from http://movies.nytimes.com/2006/06/23/movies/23fors.html.

Crimson Gold (2003) طلای سرخ

Country: Iran
Language: Persian
Director: Jafar Panahi (written by Abbas Kiarostami)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri, Ehsan Amani, Pourang Nakhael, Koveh Najmabadi, Saber Safael

Theme: Crime

Ratings: IMDb.com: 7.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Film Festivals:
2003 Cannes Film Festival
(Un Certain Regard Section)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival

Awards:
2003 Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard Jury Prize)
2003 Chicago International Film Festival: Gold Hugo for Best Film
2004 Tbilisi International Film Festival: Golden Prometheus  (Jafar Panahi)
2003 Valladolid International Film Festival: Golden Spike  (Jafar Panahi)

Crimson Gold (2003) is directed by Jafar Panahi, one of esteemed filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s protégés, and who has earned recognition from film theorists as well as won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival (for The Circle (2000)) and Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival (for Offside (2006)). Considered one of the most influential filmmakers in the Iranian New Wave movement, he takes after Kiarostami in courting controversy in the movies he have been producing. This has spawned his sudden arrest in March this year, only to be released on bail in May as the Iranian government came under the close scrutiny of the international cinematic community. Acclaimed filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers among others, as well as film societies and film festivals around the world were part of a petition movement trying to force the hand of the Iranian government into releasing Panahi, an arrest that has also been condemned by human rights organizations around the world. Cannes Best Actress Juliette Binoche also dedicated part of her award-winning speech for Kiarostami’s Certified Copy to drawing attention to Panahi’s plight. He currently still stands on trial, allegedly for “making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election”, according to Iran’s Culture Minister (AFP, 2010). But his wife has since denied claims that this was true.

Panahi’s style has been described as neorealist, and this is evident in Crimson Gold that explores humanitarian themes within Iranian cinema without sensationalizing the political and social messages. He embraces the “tension between documentary immediacy and a set of strictly defined formal parameters” amid “an overtly expressed anger at the restrictions that Iranian society imposes” (Wilson, 2006).

This is clearly evident in Crimson Gold. Albeit a crime film, it is not a sensational one that focuses on the violence, although its poster might semiotically depict otherwise given the image of a man pointing a gun to his own brain. The main character is Hussein who appears to be attempting to rob a jeweler shop in the opening scene. He shoots the Jeweler, and then takes his own life as well as the Jeweler sounds the alarm. Whether his intent was suicidal in the first place is up for contention, but the movie, executed in a flashback sequence with the execution in the first scene, is particularly affective as it goes through the travails of Hussein’s life – his psychological trauma of dealing with war experience, being on medication, and being ostracized and condescened upon in the throes of mainstream society due to his lower class status. This class struggle takes central theme throughout the entire movie, whether in Hussein striking a rapport with a fellow law enforcement officer of the same social status, or observing with chagrin the difference in policial treatment of the wealthy and the poor, an allegory of corruption that might not have fared well with the authorities.

The sociopolitical themes that run deep under the guise of a simple bank robbery are impossible to ignore, and provides a social commentary as to the social ills of contemporary Iranian society of the day. And the flurry of moviemakers from Iran hold a precious key at helping the international community unlock the increasing alienated state of Iran that is being placed on terrorism watch and accused of engaging in nuclear development in the Axis of Evil. We see a case study of brutal class realities, but which is banned in Iran itself supposedly for being too “dark” in portraying the themes of powerlessness in the face of an authoritarian society.

References

Agence France-Presse. (2010). Panahi arrested for making anti-regime film: minister. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hgegozlEasjeFkmeza6Lm8o5VmGg

Willson, J. (2006, September 26). A mirror under the veil – and inside the stadium. Retrieved October 26, 2010, from http://www.theage.com.au/news/film/getting-kicks-in-iran/2006/09/25/1159036473351.html

 

Tulpan (2008)


Country:
Kazakhstan
Theme: Romance
Runtime: 100 minutes
Director: Sergey Dvortsevoy
Starring: Askhat Kuchinchirekov, Samal Yeslyamova, Ondasyn Besikbasov, Tulepbergen Baisakalov
Ratings: IMDB: 7.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 95% | Metacritic: 88/100

Film Festivals:
Cannes Film Festival 2008, Prix Un Certain Regard

Awards:
2008 Asia Pacific Screen Award Best Film
2008 British Film Institute Award Sutherland Trophy for Best Director
2008 Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard Award
2008 Dubai International Film Festival Muhr Award Best Actor
2008 European Film Awards – European Discovery of the Year
2008 Montreal Festival of New Cinema – Feature Film Award
2008 Sao Paulo International Film Festival – International Jury Award
2008 Tokyo International Film Festival – Tokyo Grand Prix
2008 Zurich Film Festival – Golden Eye Award for Best Film

Nominated:

2008 Asia Pacific Screen Award Achievement in Directing
2009 Academy Awards: Kazakhstan submission for Foreign Language Film

Perhaps a throwback towards Kazakhstan’s communism and Soviet Union days, this film was also supported by the Polish Film Institute and the Russian Federal Agency of Culture and Cinema in a cross-border collaboration with foreign investments. This is also perhaps a sign of the fledgling film industry of the former Soviet Union nation, domesticated and thus reliant on overseas investment. But while the Central Asian bloc remains relatively unknown to much of the world with the Soviet only having been dissolved around two decades ago, the rich cultures that precede makes this region the up-and-coming one to watch over the next few years.


Tulpan
(2008) makes a bold declaration of intent for the country that was otherwise shamed in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat (2006). A pertinent point of note is that Director Sergey Dvortsevoy was an aviation engineer prior to studying film. Tulpan is his first fiction film, and Dvortsevoy successfully captures the barren, backward nature of the vast rural Kazakh plains through the movie, as well as the untowardly paternalistic nature of arranged marriages and an egoistic lead character who bears little regard for the fairer sex in this feature. Little wonder the Kazakh authorities have been quick to denounce this film as one worse than Borat in humiliating Kazakhstan. Could it be because of its glamorification of this primitive nature of Kazakhstan? Or is the inherent usage of patriotic innuendos like what seemingly is the Kazakh national anthem, featuring lines like Long live Kazakhstan (05:34) and Hold your head high, independent country! (18:40) viewed upon with disdain following the Kazakhstan greatest country in the world refrain of Borat? Political messages are also frequent via the news, as per the “Kazakhstan 2030” programme that we learn about through dialetic noise through the radio receiver as the educated child listens in to further update his father. “We learn that an earthquake in Japan measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale” constitutes big news to the radio broadcaster.

But the critics love it, a film where hopes, dreams and desires linger below the dusty plains of Tulpan. Frequent long shots expound the stark emptiness of the Kazakh rural farmland, and such frames of the harsh yet beautiful backdrop pepper the film, capturing the pristine untouched nature of the Kazakh desert (07:13, 08:24, 26:04), in contrast to close-ups of animal herding (12:20).Emptiness takes the place of the city, and animals the place of humans.

Further, a single long-take between 04:29 to 06:34 where the lead protagonist Asa and his Western culture-loving friend Boni drive through the Kazakh desert listening to pop songs. Boni wear the heart of civilization and future on his sleeves, frequently reiterating his wish to migrate to civilization and the city, with references to the American Dream pertinent as well. He is obsessed with pornography (a trait seemingly associated with materialism). But Asa insists on tying the knot in the village, not needing the city (26:18). The desires of Tulpan’s characters, in the words of Goldsmith (2008), become “almost metaphysical imperatives”.
Through the mise-en-scene, we learn that the Kazakhs look a lot like Asians, with their lush black hair and tanned skin, through several still medium shots that focus on the features of these characters. We learn that they favor lush colors that stand in stark contrast to the barren drabness that exist outside the tent. We learn that the lead protagonist, who has been discharged from the Russian navy, is eager to please with his past experiences escaping from sharks and octopi. We see all of them decked in ethnic costumes. All this, in the establishing scene which sets the premise of the film.

Dvortsevoy uses a handheld camera, as evident from the relatively shaky camera shots within the confined space of the tent that pan from character to character, capturing their emotions as they sit around the fire. This whole scene was conducted in one single take until it suddenly cuts away to Asa again (03:40) after the camera lands on the prospective bride Tulpan (03:34-03:39), hidden behind a veil. This creates a sense of discontinuity that perpetrates through the unwillingness of Tulpan to accept him as her husband. We learn later that its because of his huge ears. Further, the 5-second lingering shot of Tulpan creates an impression of us looking in as she eyes Asa.

But Tulpan refuses Asa, who is insistent on winning her hand no matter what – despite not having seen her before [Could a parallel be drawn with Il Mare, where the girl becomes the male’s “dream” despite him not having set sights on her? Is this an over-idealistic picture of love?] At 38:30, a shaky camera tracks his movement as he walks toward Tulpan’s hut and knocks on the door. Dvortsevoy follows through closely, culminating in a peeping motion that follows the plane of his sight of Asa (39:24). She refuses to speak to him and her mother chases him away.

Running parallel to this love story is a separate thread focusing on the importance of lifestock in the rural area. There is an epidemic amongst the sheep, with many mothers dying during birth or giving birth to stillborns. We see many dying lambs, and an initial scene of Asa trying his best to revive a dead lamb a possible parallel to the dead relationship between himself and Tulpan (56:04).

He succeeds in delivering a life lamb eventually as Dvortsevoy captures the entire birth process in a single long take (1:13:14 onwards). The camera zooms in and captures the entire process, culminating in a voyeuristic shot that panders lovingly on the lamb and its baby struggling to its feet. Having proven himself, Asa lies down in exhaustion, spreading his arms out, grinning in a sign of power and victory. We see this as a turning point for the character, who opts to stay in the village for a life of hardship and simplicity in the end rather than move to the city, despite not winning over the elusive Tulpan.

References
Goldsmith, L. (2008). Reverse Shot. Retrieved Oct 6, 2010, from http://www.reverseshot.com/article/tulpan