My wife was reading when I first put it on: this was actually my strategy to avoid getting blamed if, on telling her to watch it, it turned out as obscure or inaccessible as it might at first sound. She did actually ask what I was going to watch as I loaded it.
"Er, it's a little film about some Mongolian herders in the Gobi Desert and their camels, Dear..." I offered sheepishly (and not inappropriately).
"...right..." she hemmed, returning to her book. The film started.
As the credits rolled some time later, I turned from my riveted position facing the TV. My wife was staring wide-eyed at the screen, a huge smile on her face, moisture in her eyes.
"That was absolutely fantastic!" she exclaimed.
It is. Far more beautiful than any of your over-hyped Crouching Dragons, or whatever - deliriously so, in fact, and all the more exquisite for being so real. Simple and exotic at the same time, The Weeping Camel establishes how utterly alien we all are and, at the same time, how very, very similar.
It begins with astonishing, eyeball-searing landscape and lifestyle shots that look like Luke Skywalker's home planet, with creatures from Hoth imported from the sequel (were they Bantus?). The desert looks and sounds bleak, wild, glowing and glorious. Its inhabitants (and their clothes, their habitat, their food, their songs) are both ordinary and inexpressibly glamorous.Read more ›
The camel, legend has it, was once given an impressive set of antlers as reward for its loyalty and dedicated service. Unfortunately, it is a trusting animal, and loaned its antlers to a deer ... who never returned them. The camel, to this day, remains forlornly staring at a distant horizon, awaiting the deer's return, a track of tears permanently dripping from the corner of its eye.
This is a simple evocation of desert life - the desert of the twin humped Bacterian camel, not the North African / Middle Eastern variety. We follow a small family, grandparents, adult children, infant grandchild, as they forage and eke out a calm, slow paced life in the Gobi. It is a harsh environment, one which tolerates few mistakes, but the Mongolian people know it and have adapted to its demands.
Their routines are universal - forage for fuel, cook, eat, wash, sleep, keep the young children safe, encourage adventure, play and responsibility in the older ones, cherish the people you love, and treat your livestock with respect. It's a simple life, punctuated by ritual as spoonfuls of milk are cast to the four winds, asking for a blessing on the day and the daily activity.
Filmed without commentary or comment, this drama-documentary centres around the birth of a white camel and its rejection by its mother. The farmers have to try to effect a reconciliation, have to get the mother to suckle her offspring.Read more ›
The camels are fabulous, and the "star" of the film is an adorable white calf, abandoned by his mother after a very long and hard birth. A musician from a distant town is brought in to play for them, in a ritual that will make the mother care for her offspring, and it is a fantastic thing to witness. The last 30 minutes of this film are quite magical, and all of it is extremely educational.
Some may find the pacing slow, but that is because it is being seen from the complex fast track the viewer is on, compared to the steady flow of nomadic existence, and perhaps they are expecting a "movie", and not a documentary, as that is not clearly specified in the packaging, other than National Geographic being named as part of production. The slowness of the film is actually part of the experience, where the people are without distractions, and are a part of the nature around them, reading the sky for storms, and understanding their animals in a profound way.
Total running time is 87 minutes.