Dyuishen (Bolot Beishenaliev) is assigned to the mountainous Kirghiz region of Central Asia by the Young Communist League after he is discharged from the Red Army. It is 1923 and the Civil war has ended. The former soldier becomes a teacher, bringing the Leninist doctrine to the remote Moslem area where elders did not allow children to go to school.
He falls in love with one of his students, but the young woman is sold by her father to a wealthy chieftain. When the school is burned down, the majestic poplar trees that are a source of local pride are cut down to rebuild the new structure.
This lyrical drama is the directorial debut of the gifted Andrei Konchalovsky, who is best known by American audiences for his 1985 feature Runaway Train.