WEEPING CAMEL, THE
Springtime in the Gobi Desert, South Mongolia. A family of nomadic shepherds assists the births of their camel herd. One of the camels has an excruciatingly difficult delivery but, with help from the family, out comes a rare white calf. Despite the efforts of the shepherds, the mother rejects the newborn, coldly refusing it her milk and her motherly love. When any hope for the little one seems to have vanished, the nomads send their two young boys on a journey through the desert, in search of a musician ... Finally a violinist is summoned to the camp and a breathtaking ritual is performed. The archaic sound of the violin along with the melodic singing of one of the women find a way into the mother camel's heart: when her young is brought to her again, she breaks into tears and finally allows it the milk it needs to survive.
Review by Louise Keller:
Appealing to the lost soul in all of us, The Story of the Weeping Camel is a wondrous docu-drama story about a camel that first rejects, then accepts its first-born colt. Made as a graduation project by two German students, this is a moving and fascinating study of life in the vast and harsh terrain of Mongolia and the relationship between the camels and the nomad family that tends them. Music is part of their every day lives - from lulling a tired child to sleep to the version of throat-singing that Grandma uses as she helps the goats suckle. But the use of music and reverberation in the ritual to reunite the camel and its calf, reuniting nature's shattered connection, offers perhaps the most incredible result imaginable.
The region is remote and the family lives in a tent-like abode, while camels and goats graze outside. The camels are extraordinary creatures, with magnificent manes and fleecy coats that resemble the colour of burnt sugar. Two humps stand proudly on their backs, offering a natural seat for a rider. 'May your hump grown straight and your feet grow strong' is the sentiment expressed, as the nomads dress the first calf born in the birthing season. The nomads care for the camels with great affection, and are connected to them. There are extraordinary scenes as we witness the difficult birth of the white calf. There's more tension on display than in any thriller, as we watch and wait while the nomads gently help the camel give birth. When the mother rejects her new first-born as he tries to suckle, the result is heartbreaking. No coaxing and intervention seems to help, until the ritualistic use of reverberation and music reunites nature's shattered connection.
We become part of the family and meet them at work and at play. There are daily rituals of eating, bathing and entertainment comprising playing cards for the adults and throwing dice for the kids. There are many incongruities - from the tent's wooden door, to the ballet class in the nearby community and the television set that fascinates (and costs between 20 and 30 sheep).
This is a mesmerising snapshot of not only a little known culture, but one that offers a rare emotional experience never to be forgotten.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps, like me, the first question you will ask yourself after seeing this film is whether the film is a documentary or a drama. How is it that the story of a female camel rejecting her colt can be captured in a dramatised way. How can the filmmakers know they will capture this. The answer is as extraordinary as the film itself: they knew that this happened, perhaps once a camel-birth season, and they wanted it to happen in the nicest possible way. And it did.
"This was pure luck," says the film's Mongolian director Byambasuren Davaa, the first generation of her family to grow up in the city. The film's central event happened in one day. Sometimes it takes several days.
The cast are the nomad families as themselves; the camels are also themselves. The events - including the myriad small, surrounding rituals and actions of daily life in the tiny Gobi desert community - are also real. The only element of the film that makes it a drama is that the filmmakers intentionally structured it in a certain way.
But the genre is only relevant if you're a programmer trying to pigeon hole the film into a suitable slot. As the audience, you won't care a camel's grunt. Captivating by its simplicity and its exotic cultural setting, Weeping Camel is a great example of how a minute slice of real life can expand under the camera's eye.
The camels have soft brown coats that sway in the desert wind, big eyes, small ears, a pouting solemnity that hides a half smile, and two humps - some of them tufted with hair like laser lamps. The colts are born with the humps flapping emptily, but they fill quickly. We see two births, the second being a hard labour, and this is the one where the mother rejects the colt and won't let him feed. That's where the violin and the song ritual comes in.
There is also time for a desert storm, a lullaby, home making and welcome traditions. But the distance between cultures is illusory: in the end, our common humanity overrides those differences and we engage with the Mongol nomads as if they were our neighbours. Which of course they are.
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WEEPING CAMEL, THE (PG)
(Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel)
CAST: Janchiv Ayurzana, Chimed Ohin, Amgaabazar Gonson, Zeveljanz Nyam, Ikhbayar Amgaabazar, Odgerel Ayusch
PRODUCER: Tobias Siebert
DIRECTOR: Luigi Falorni & Byambasuren Davaa
SCRIPT: Luigi Falorni & Byambasuren Davaa
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Luigi Falorni
EDITOR: Anja Pohl
MUSIC: Marcel Leniz, Marc Riedinger, Choigiw Sangidorj
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mendbayar Pol
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 2004