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Reviews for April 1st, 2009

Enlighten Up!

Directed by Kate Churchill.

This mildly fascinating documentary explores the spiritual and physical effectiveness of yoga on Nick Rosen, a 29-year-old journalist based in New York City. Rosen doesn’t know much about yoga and expresses his skepticism about its true effectiveness from the get-go, but remains curious to try it out and to seek insight from gurus from all around the world. When, where and how did the practice of yoga originate? That’s a great question which yoga instructors get a chance to answer and each of them gives a different response. Nowadays, you’ll find many different private yoga instructors and yoga centers, throughout many cities with 16.5 million Americans practicing it. Even ex-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page practices yoga. In the hustle-and-bustle of today’s world, it’s not too often that you would find true enlightenment. The real question, though, is whether or not yoga is actually worth all the effort, time and money. In other words, can the practice of yoga really transform someone or is it merely a form of physical workout? Can anyone reach a state of enlightenment through yoga? Director Kate Churchill follows Nick Rosen as he travels to countries such as India where he consults gurus who discuss with him about yoga’s significance and how they found enlightenment through spirituality. Those moments are quite intriguing to watch. However, do audiences really need to watch footage of Rosen leaving to go on a date? During the interviews with a variety of experts, gurus and instructors, he seldom asks great, provocative questions that a truly intelligent journalist would tend to ask. Sure, it’s nice to hear that his quest for enlightenment far away from home has made him miss the warmth and comfort of his family, but wouldn’t any long and distant separation bring him to that kind of realization? Churchill should have spent much more time fully exploring the practice of yoga and spirituality rather than on Rosen and her relationship with him. At a brief running time of 82 minutes, Enlighten Up! has sporadically provocative and amusing moments, but remains poorly synthesized, somewhat unfocused and leaves you feeling underwhelmed and hungry for more enlightenment about yoga and spirituality.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3.
Released by Balcony Releasing. Opens at the IFC Center.


Directed by Sergei Dvortsevoy.

In Kazakh and Russian with subtitles. After spending time in the Navy, Asa (Askhat Kuchinchirekov), comes back home where he moves into the yurt of his older sister, Samal (Samal Yeslyamova), located in the Hunger Steppe of Kazakhstan. Her brother-in-law, Ondas (Ondasyn Besikbasov), and their four children also reside there. Asa’s friend, Boni (Tulepbergen Baisakalov), suggests that he should go far away from the steppe to somewhere urban, but Asa refuses to leave. He wants to settle down and get married, but, Tulpan, the only available young woman in town, doesn’t like him because he has big ears. It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t have his own herd nor does he have the right skills to be a competent shepherd. The only way that he can own a herd is by getting married. No matter how often he persistently tries to get Tulpan to at least communicate with him to show a modicum of interest, she constantly avoids him by giving him the silent treatment. Although the thin plot has a few moments of comic relief that are actually funny, most of the comedic attempts fall flat, especially when it comes to Boni’s crazy behavior as a secretly porn-obsessed driver of a small truck. What’s left is a rather tedious and slightly dull look at life on a steppe as Asa gradually learns more about shepherding, i.e. how to pull a lamb out of its mother during birth while keeping the lamb alive and breathing. In a subplot, many lambs are dying right after birth for mysterious reasons that become revealed later. There’s a lot of detail involved during those birth scenes, which gives the film a heightened sense of realism and brief tenderness. Director/co-writer Sergei Dvortsevoy shoots in a cinema verité style which helps you to feel somewhat absorbed into the story. The beautiful, vast and flat landscape of the steppe along with its unpredictable weather that includes sandstorms feels like a character itself and a much more interesting and lively one compared to Asa or anyone else. Why not show Tulpan interacting with him at least at some point? Or at least the audience could have gotten more information, whether subtle or not, about what’s really going on in her mind or Asa’s mind, but both characters end up ultimately forgettable. Despite its rich, picturesque scenery and a few briefly amusing and tender moments, Tulpan feels uneven, meandering, unimaginative and somewhat bland both as a drama and as a comedy.
Number of times I checked my watch: 4.
Released by Zeitgeist Films. Opens at the Film Forum.

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