Tuesday, September 2, 2008


(2003) (Subtitles)

This film falls into a category called “narrative documentary,” as it uses real people, living in their real lives, to tell a story that either springs from their own culture and experience, or is inspired by it. Some shots may be staged, but as a whole, the filmmakers employ the same truth-telling ethos as they would in a strict documentary to create a compelling narrative.

In this case, we follow a multi-generational family of herder nomads in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia as they work to help one of their camels deliver a colt – a long and arduous process – and then watch as the mother rejects the unusual offspring, a ghostly, white colt. These two themes are responsible for the PG rating: the pain of maternal rejection surprisingly translates loudly and clearly into human terms (the mother refuses to nurse her baby, and the cries of the colt are heart wrenching), and of course the birth itself may be upsetting to some children. It ain’t pretty.

There are so many beautiful moments in the film, however, that most children with an interest in the unusual and the exotic should be smitten. The filmmakers (one of which apparently came from a herder background herself) tell the story of the people and their culture so naturally, letting their everyday actions speak for themselves, and letting the stark terrain of the Gobi illustrate the story with its dust and wind. It’s a quiet film, with a warm heart, and offers an almost voyeuristic peek into lives that are so very different from our own.

The “weeping camel” aspect is not what you might think. A good part of the film is focused on the family’s search for a musician to come and play a traditional song for the mother, a song that may persuade her to change her feelings about the colt. When this happens, it is said that the camel will weep as she nurses her young. Two of the sons venture out on camelback to find such a musician, and in their search stumble on evidence of the outside world (and modern technology) closing in on their own traditional way of life.

There is much to think about, much to admire, and much to love about The Story of the Weeping Camel. For younger viewers, you could always fast forward through the fairly graphic birthing scene without losing a critical part of the story.

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