Director Ermek Tursunov’s Kelin made my list of notable non-nominees in 2010. Set in about 200 A.D., it was a rare Foreign Language entry with no subtitles. That’s because the characters communicated in grunts and gestures instead of with words. For the The Old Man, Tursunov chooses a modern tale, although it takes place in a decidedly primitive setting. It is inspired by—but not based on—Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Kasym is an elderly sheepherder who, despite his belief in traditional values, is an obsessive soccer fan who names his sheep after famous South American players. He is also something of a senior delinquent. He lives with his patient widowed daughter-in-law and his grandson, who thinks soccer is stupid, preferring instead to play handheld video games. When some arrogant wolf hunters ask Kasym where they can find their intended prey, he tells them, but warns that this is not a good time to go wolf hunting because the mothers are protecting their young.
A neighbor who is expecting visiting relatives asks Kasym to take his sheep herd with him when he takes his own sheep out to winter pasture. Kasym agrees, but when a bad storm sets in, he becomes lost. Thus begins a riveting battle for survival in which Kasym must protect his charges from the elements and from wolves. And then the situation turns even worse, as the mother wolf decides to go after more than just sheep.