on 25 July 2005
The camel, we are told at the start of this film, is a trusting animal with a good heart. In the Gobi Desert - a tough, inhospitable, largely barren land - the camel is a vital means of transport, beast of burden, and vehicle of exchange for the nomadic tribes who inhabit the land.
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. It's a charming, engaging film, with the undercurrent of the Mongolian tribes themselves being about to lose their antlers - the television has arrived and you wonder how long they can sustain their own cultural uniqueness and independence in the face of technology and the lure of the bright lights. Are they about to give up their birthright of knowledge of the land and their environment for the anonymity of Western consumerism?
It's a very gentle, thoroughly uplifting film which I found warmly inspirational. This is reality television of a decidedly high class. You feel you do enter into the real lives of real people and follow their daily routines, albeit in an exotic environment. You can identify with their lifestyle, can appreciate the values they uphold, and can respect their unhurried approach to life. The days plod along with the steady rhythm of the camel. You can admire this lifestyle, you can envy it ... but could you get by without TV, supermarket, motor car, etc.? Lovely film ... very lovely film.