The Story of the Weeping Camel Movie Review

When the National Geographic logo appears onscreen before a film's opening credits, you might immediately think "documentary." To some extent, you'd be right. But if the film is The Story of the Weeping Camel, after just a few minutes of patience, you'll find yourself in the midst of a unique fictional film with a documentary feel, a touching curiosity about an extended family of Mongolian camel herders in the Gobi desert.

A popular entry in a handful of recent film fests, Weeping Camel is a simple, provincial story with a universal theme and knockout photography. The creation of two Munich Film School students, the film is as intriguing as any polished documentary, and has a tale even a Hollywood film fan can relate to.

In the harsh environment of the Gobi, a small population of herders prepares for their female camels to give birth to young colts. We see them tending to their livestock, their huts, and themselves in the matter-of-fact way that is daily life, especially rural daily life.

When a camel delivers her young -- and if you've never seen a camel give birth, you're in for a fascinating treat -- the Mongolians have an astonishing calm about them. Through the most seemingly urgent situations, they retain a steady peacefulness, a sedate way that washes over the entire film.

The clan's most troubling scenario surrounds the birth of a rare, delicate white colt. After one female camel's strenuous labor and finally, birth, the mom shuns her young offspring. She refuses to let him suckle. She ignores his advances for physical affection. In witty wide-angle shots, directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni even place their two "leads" on opposite ends of the frame, illustrating a terribly defiant mother, a heartbroken lonely child, and nothing but desert between them.

Edited alongside these moments of separation are unassuming scenes displaying the warmth and love that the human family members show one another. A young mother sings to her toddler while gently tucking her into bed. A grandmother calms her granddaughter with sweets. There is the sharing of chores, the cooking of dinner, the playing of cards. The dichotomy between the sociology of the camels and the humans is obvious, maybe too obvious. But the filmmakers' easygoing unobtrusiveness makes the comparison forgivable, and even likable at times.

In a smart narrative move, Davaa and Falorni, shooting in a godforsaken landscape, add a plot point that opens the film physically, exposing viewers to even more of the Mongolian herders' world. When the villagers decide that a special ceremony is necessary to lower the mother camel's defenses, two young brothers trek to a populated town (one with electricity and television!) to hunt down the local music teacher. Their journey has a unique muted tone of dedication and discovery, reminiscent of another rural drama, Zhang Yimou's superb Not One Less.

Although we never feel that too much is at stake -- the resourceful herders find ways to feed the abandoned colt -- there is still mild suspense at just how this problem will be solved. But for the people involved, it seems that whether their efforts are successful or not, the importance will be not in the physical survival of this young camel, but in his emotional survival. This is what you get when two camels are the co-stars of a movie. A fictional movie, that is.

Aka Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel. Reviewed at the 2004 Independent Film Festival of Boston.

Camel wrangler.


Comments

The Story of the Weeping Camel Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: G, 2004

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