Customer Review

7 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars He is in the camel business & he is calling you "DUDE!", 25 Jan 2008
This review is from: The Story Of The Weeping Camel [2004] [DVD] (DVD)
The back of the DVD case for "The Story of the Weeping Camel" contains a rather telling classification guide:

"Universal: Suitable for all.
Language: None.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Violence: Scene of animal being born [I kid you not].
Other: None."

This, I am afraid to say, rather neatly sums it up. There was hardly any dialogue. The "violence" (I've never heard the birth process being described as violence before, but still) was over within the first ten minutes. And otherwise: - well, "none" is pretty fair.

Now usually, I'm quite game for this sort of thing: Slow moving I can do (Tarkovsky's Solaris: check); German expressionism I can do (Werner Herzog: seen them all); moody nature/wilderness films set in Mongolia I can do (Derzu Uzala: check). The Mongolian hinterland fascinates me. But, all the same, this one had me snookered.

I mean, what is it? A documentary or a scripted feature? It seems to be a documentary, but it doesn't feel like one. (How did the German film crew know there was going to be a Rejected White Baby Camel ahead of time? What did the Mongolians make of the German film crew? Now *that* would have made for an interesting documentary.) Are we expected to believe that a bunch of guys from Munich with a steady-cam were just loafing around in Ulan Batoor and happened to catch this by chance? Was the Rejected White Baby Camel narrative a happy coincidence during a routine documentary they happened to be making about a family living a fairly boring life in the middle of nowhere? (Sample dialogue - "I think the last colt will not now be born today." "No. Perhaps Tomorrow." and "Come on! hurry up! Let's go!". But let's go *where*? You're in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Where is there to go? What's the hurry?). What on earth possessed them to go to Mongolia to make a film like that?

On the other hand, if it's a dramatic feature, where is the drama? The Mongolian family seems to be a well adjusted, harmonious, thoughtful, nice bunch of people (and they've called one of their kids DUDE!) But that's the problem: (perhaps out of some sort of cross-cultural respect) the film makers can't bring themselves to suggest any sort of imbalance in the family's way of life (apart from a grumpy camel). They feed the Rejected White Baby Camel by hand. They earnestly summon some sort of priest who lights some candles, make model camels out of clay and starts singing to them, I suppose on the off chance that this might help. But all the while the poor Rejected White Baby Camel is in reasonably caring hands (perhaps misguided from the point of view of animal husbandry).

So, other than to satisfy a vaguely voyeuristic need to see foreign people behaving eccentrically, what do we learn from this? The film never conveys the sense of scope to be a tragedy. The Rejected White Baby Camel is going to be okay. We are confident of that throughout.

So much so that by 40 minutes I had already started leafing through a magazine. Shortly afterwards the wife and I looked at each other, decided we'd seen enough, that we were happy enough to leave the Rejected White Baby Camel in the caring hands of these Mongolian folk: that it would pull through. We turned over to the news.

Olly Buxton
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 May 2008 19:51:45 BDT
NCL says:
It's a real shame you aren't more patient and less xeno-phobic. This is not a documentary but a docu-drama that stirs the emotions and creates an atmosphere. This is a chance to see and feel a small part of another lifestyle, and is not "eccentric", simply different.

Posted on 15 Jun 2008 13:44:52 BDT
BJB says:
I take issue with the accusation of xenophobia here; 'eccentric' MEANS different, so calling something which is plainly very different 'eccentric' is no insult. The reviewer found the movie less than enthralling and I happen to agree. Xenophobia and patience do not come into. Enjoyment does.

Posted on 14 Oct 2008 19:46:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Oct 2008 10:25:56 BDT
davidr_128 says:
Well, you are entitled to your opinion, and you have a point about how come a bunch of german documentary-makers came to be passing through ... but I think you are way off the mark: This is great cinema. This might even be one of the most important films you'll ever see.

Yes the pace of life in Mongolia is different; the pleasures are different, as are the challenges, and the suprises. This film manages to convey this, if you give it a chance. It does take patience, I had similar (if milder) feelings of agitation about 20-30 minutes into it. It probably helps to see it in the cinema, or at least on a large screen in a dark room...

Despite my natural inclination towards comedies and action, I found it made me think quite deeply about a number of things that I and many others take for granted. That religious doctrine that "humans are unique among animals in having a soul" - is it still a tenable viewpoint ? What underpins health and wellbeing ? What's the point of it all ? For me, it manages to say some big things about science, religion, society, and philosophy. And to entertain.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2008 12:59:27 BDT
Olly Buxton says:
well I *do* have a natural inclination towards films like this, but this one didn't light my fire. I guess I just didn't need to watch a baby camel being lovingly looked after in Mongolia to have thoughts about the uniqueness of mankind.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jul 2013 16:24:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Jul 2013 16:50:12 BDT
O. Buxton- I'm several years' late commenting, so I doubt if you'll see this, but I can't resist. Your review demonstrates that you're a smart cookie, as we say in the states, perhaps too smart for your own good. Your reply to Davidr_128 demonstrates why this film was lost on you. His precise point, I believe, was that mankind is NOT unique, not separate, though to our detriment we see ourselves so.

Here's an excerpt from my review of the film: "For me it was profound, deeply spiritual, a respite- the shot of the Tibetan/Buddhist service in the middle of the bleak Mongolian landscape, the loving care with which the people carved the small camel figurines and braided halters for their camels- the respect and reverence they had for their environment, their animals, and for each other (across generations)- I was utterly charmed at times, moved to tears other times. The trek to "the city," how momentous was that? The curiosity and mischievousness of the boys, the adults endlessly patient and loving.

The shot of the blue scarf wrapped around the pole, fluttering in the wind, so simple and yet so meaningful, symbolic of their reverence and joy in living. I was quite overcome during the ceremony with the camel and her colt. MAGIC. A million miles removed from "life" in the West. All I can say is "Ba.""

Though I didn't quote him in my review, the philosopher Alan Watts wrote: "But what our social institutions repress is not just the sexual love, the intimacy between man and woman, but also the still deeper love of organism and environment, of Yes and No, and of all those so-called opposites represented in the Taoist symbol of the yang-yin, the black and white fishes in eternal intercourse. It is hardly stretching a metaphor to use the word "love" for intimate relationships beyond those between human organisms. In those states of consciousness called "mystical" we have, I believe, a sudden slip into an inverse or obverse of the view of the world given in our divisive language forms. When this slip is not, as in schizophrenia, a tortured withdrawal from conflict, the change of consciousness again and again brings the overwhelming impression that the world is a system of love. Everything fits into place in an indescribable harmony- indescribable because paradoxical in the terms which our language provides."

The filmmaker is a native Mongolian. She, with her German film crew, specializes in films documenting Mongolian life. The white calf just happened to be born while they were there filming (duh), and they were lucky to be there to record it. The film so charmed and moved people because it offered a glimpse into that system of loving harmony that can't be expressed through "divisive" language or intellectual processes. Interesting that you retreated into a magazine.

One last quote, from William James, who spent a lifetime seeking a balance between the intellectual and the ineffable: "I tried to remake science and it nearly unmade me, for it undid my enthusiasm until I looked at life's wonders not for themselves, but with an eye for provable facts. So everywhere the existence of the soul eluded me. Though I myself possessed one, nowhere could I identify it within myself, and when it spoke through inspiration or intuitional insight, it was then that I doubted myself most, questioned my motives and lost myself in petty details..."

Food for thought.
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