Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Story of the Weeping Camel



Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel : Mongolia (Mon-Ita-Ger) 2003 : Luigi FALORNI and BYAMBASUREN Davaa : 90 mins

South Mongolia, Gobi Desert, Spring 2002: a family of nomadic shepherds assists the births in their camels herd. A white colt is born. Its mother, disturbed by the long and painful delivery, rejects it. The little one fights for milk and love, but its cold-hearted mother seems determined to let it die. The nomads make use of their last resource: only with the help of a musician from a distant village might the little camel be saved
(from official Troms 2004 Film Festival programme)

It seems to be a trait among German-based directors to resist standard documentary/fiction distinctions that suit the rest of the world pretty well: Werner Herzog has played this game on many occasions, with often-unsatisfactory results (Land of Silence and Darkness). Now Munich film-school students Falorni (an Italian) and Byambasuren (Mongolian) muddy the waters with their Story of the Weeping Camel, which is almost, but not quite, a documentary. Hence their credit for buch und regie – script and direction – and the fact that the film was submitted as Mongolias entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, rather than being considered for Best Documentary.

The Story of the Weeping CamelIn the end, the film wasn’t nominated in either area by AMPAS, which is probably a fair result. This is an impeccably well-intentioned but very slow and small-scale chronicle of a distant land that often falls victim to the National Geographic school of ethnographic film-making. We see the rituals and inter-generational relationships of a family of farmers, the old ways implicitly under incipient threat from the encroachments of modernity and progress as in Lukas Moodyssons Together, these forces obtain entry via the route of least resistance: kids who want TV sets.

Its all very low-key stuff and its oddly noticeable that this is the rare life-on-the-farm movie in which death doesn’t feature once. Even Cold Mountain, for all its Hollywoodish faults, established that mortality is part of the natural cycles of life for farmers and their animal charges. The only real drama concerns the rejection by a mother camel of her colt the pair appear among the (irresistibly cute) picture credits* named as Ingen Temee and Botok. Despite the best efforts of the camel-herders to whom they belong, mother and colt fail to bond, and its only when an expert tribal musician is summoned from a distant city that a remedy seems at hand.

This takes the form of the hoos ritual an admittedly spellbinding conclusion to a somewhat uneven film – in which a guitar-type instrument is placed on one of the camels, the wind whistling through the strings and playing a tune. The musician then delivers a stirring lament which has an unexpectedly rapid impact on the situation not so much a horse whisperer this bloke as a camel singer, perhaps.

3rd February, 2004
(seen 14th January : Fokus Cinema, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004

* these credits also confirm that Dude is the name of one of the farm children when he’s referred to in the subtitles (as in Dude, don’t forget to milk the cow) audiences may be forgiven for thinking that Americas linguistic colonialism has penetrated even to this extreme outpost.

by Neil Young