Film Review: The Story of the Weeping Camel
Survival is a full-time job for the yurt-dwelling nomads of Mongolia's Gobi Desert. And it is here that Mongolian documentary filmmaker Byambasuren Davaa focuses her lens on three generations of a Mongolian family who still maintain this ancient lifestyle. The elder generation is represented by grandparents Janchiv and Chimed, who live in the family yurt with their son Ikchee, his wife Ogdoo, and their children Dude, Ugna, and Guntee.
Their days are spent tending a modest herd of goats, sheep, and camels, which includes such tasks as processing the dairy products, harvesting the wool, and seeing to the care of the newborn livestock. And although the rhythm of everyday life seems routine and uneventful, the birth of an unusual camel colt poses a quandary that affects every member of the family.
After the difficult and painful birth of a rare white camel colt, the mother camel rejects it. And although Ogdoo expresses the camel's milk for hand-feeding with a flask, without nurturing sustenance from its mother, the frail camel colt cannot thrive. After several days of unsuccessful attempts to get the mother and baby to bond, the family decides that it's time to engage the services of a shaman violinist to perform a musical bonding ritual. But because the violinist lives in the trading-post village of Aimak Center, the family must entrust their teenage son Dude and his younger brother Ugna to make the long journey on camelback to find him and bring him back to perform the ceremony. But even if the boys succeed in their quest, will his music have the power to soothe the savage breast?
Filmed on location in the Inner Mongolian region of Aimak, The Story of the Weeping Camel features a cast of real-life Mongolian nomads with no prior acting experience. The film made the rounds of international film festivals in 2004, where it received an abundance of awards and accolades, and was ultimately nominated for Best Documentary at the 77th Academy Awards.
The Story of the Weeping Camel is a beautiful film, both visually and emotionally. With a touch of mysticism within the context of stunning reality, it creates a fascinating vignette of this vanishing way of life. When it comes to cultural documentaries, The Story of the Weeping Camel is as good as it gets.