Saturday, August 28, 2004
'The Story of the Weeping Camel' both teaches and touches
Anyone who ever dreamed of learning to speak some secret animal language will delight in the narrative documentary "The Story of the Weeping Camel."
By combining staged scenes with the real-life experiences of a family of nomads in contemporary Mongolia, directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni tell a mystical tale about how these dwellers of the Gobi Desert manage to communicate with animals through music.
The filmmakers set out to make this groundbreaking film with a very specific notion of who they wanted as their subjects: an actual-to-goodness family with several generations living together. Then they discovered that changes in the climate have forced many Mongolian families to split up in order to find pastures for their herds.
Eventually, though, Davaa and Falorni found a more lush area and a family of four generations living together. The film's success rests largely on the shoulders of this engaging clan who, unlike most reality television stars, pays no attention to the cameras.
What the co-directors found in their subjects were people who depend on nature for their very existence, and so they cherish and connect with the world of the wild in a way most Westerners never will. They also managed to capture stunning footage of the birth of a snow-white camel. While the colt is heartbreakingly beautiful, the horrifying birth would surely lower the teenage pregnancy rate if this movie were shown in schools.
Considering the painful delivery, it's understandable when the mama camel rejects her baby. But that doesn't help to ease the viewer's agony, when the rejected colt lets out an unbearable cry of sorrow. The newborn camel will likely die unless the family can somehow convince the mother to reclaim her child.
A joint production between THINKFilmand National Geographic World Films, "The Story of the Weeping Camel," like a lot of nature documentaries, has moments of tedium. Kids probably won't sit through it without a lot of whining. Older viewers, on the other hand, will likely find its rare insights into a place Americans don't see much about in the media are more than worth the film's slow spots. After all, the nomads' way of life is likely to change drastically.
Even if the family manages to stick together despite the harsh weather conditions, the ways of the modern world are quickly encroaching on their turf. Ugna, one of the film's youngsters, loves playing with cuddly sheep, but he's more interested in persuading the family to buy a television so he can watch cartoons. For now, though, the boy is still willing to listen to the family elders tell stories and to watch the unfolding saga of the white colt.
In publicity materials for the film, Davaa explained that she sees the film as a story of salvation: "The little starving camel is each of us, estranged, unceasingly searching for protection and needing to belong."
That's a beautiful sentiment, but maybe it's better not to read too much into "The Story of the Weeping Camel" considering that there's so much meaning just to be skimmed off its surface. It's a tale about the love that's possible between animals and man.The Story of the Weeping Camel
At the Grandin Theatre. Rated PG for graphic scenes of camels giving birth. One hour, 27 minutes.