“ Genre: Children's DVDs / Theatrical Release: 2004 / Universal, suitable for all / Director: Byambasuren Davaa, Luigi Falorni / Actors: Janchiv Ayurzana, Chimed Ohin, Amgaabazar Gonson, Zeveljamz Nyam, Ikhbayar Amgaabazar ... / DVD released 2004-11-01 at Ugc Films / Features of the DVD: PAL, Widescreen „
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(film only review)
The Story of the Weeping Camel is a 2003 film set in the Gobi desert which was critically acclaimed and won many international awards for it's directors; Mongolian born Byambasuren Davaa and Italian Luigi Falorni. It is ostensibly the tale of a camel that will not accept it's calf. Through this animal drama we follow the lives of the family of Mongolian nomads who are their shepherds. Before watching I thought this might be a bit boring, but I was soon drawn in, intrigued and amused by the various goings on.
It is the calfing season and we watch as new camels are born to the herd. There is a ceremony for the first born and we begin to understand how important they are to the people. One of the camels goes through a very long and difficult first labour after which it rejects it's rare, white calf and refuses to let it suckle. The family try various ways to re unite the two, but it's not a straightforward process. The methods used range from what you might expect, to the bizarre, outlandish and charming, culminating in a last ditch attempt using an almost magical old tradition. There is one scene in which the calf keeps following the mother and the mother moves away. The calf makes such sorrowful sounding noises I really did find it heart rending.
I wondered how they made this film. There seems to be some debate about how much of it is actually documentary and how much drama, and it seems that it is really a mixture of true events filmed as they happen and some recreated events. As a result the acting is very naturalistic, these are not film stars we are watching, it's a real family, role playing real events.
It's not just about camels, there are the ins and outs of extended family life, the raging sandstorms that bring everything else to a stop, the influence of Western culture which manages to infiltrate even this isolated lifestyle; the two brothers go on an errand to a distant settlement where one of them discovers television and the family have to deal with his constant requests for one when he returns. I was especially interested in how they brought up the little girl as she was of a similar age to mine, amused by the fact that she was occasionally tied to a length of rope, (for her own safety - their version of a playpen perhaps?), and pleased to see that toddlers brought up in tents in the Gobi desert just seem as likely as western toddlers to throw a good tantrum now and again.
There were some minor problems with the subtitles on the version I watched; one set flashed on and off again very quickly and there were a few times that I felt sure more was going on than was being subtitled, but I supposed that could possibly just be the language differences. This also had a strange, no doubt unintentional, but potentially enhancing effect for non mongolian speaking viewers, to me it made the camels point of view feel more real - on one occasion there is unsubtitled chatter going on while the camera is on the camels outside in the dark and it's as though we are the camels listening as people make their babbling noises. It turns out, having read a review by a Mongolian writer, that the subtitles have actually left a lot out and concentrated on lines which move the plot forward. I think this is a shame and would like to see a version where this was remedied.
The Story of the Weeping Camel is a quiet film with some wonderful cinematography and although the pace is neccessarily slow, it remains absorbing throughout. It's almost as unique and beautiful as the animals it portrays.