The Story of the Weeping Camel (review)

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In the cold, windswept deserts of Mongolia, a mother camel rejects her newborn calf, and the nomadic herders to whom the animals belong must perform an ancient ritual to reunite them. Byambasuren Davaa, who grew up in this world, and Italian Luigi Falorni developed this “narrative documentary” — a nominally fictional story with a real-life framework — in a German film school and shot it on the fly on location in the Gobi with a cast on nonprofessional actors. The how-did-they-capture-that structure, the wonderfully hammy, scene-stealing camels, and the simple story simply told are mesmerizing enough, but the truly hypnotic aspect of this austerely beautiful film is the exoticness of its landscape, both geographical and cultural. Like The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), this adventure in ethnographic filmmaking introduces us to a people barely glimpsed by the outside world, with the added fascination of witnessing how they accommodate — and refuse to — the intrusion of more technological civilization: there’s something ironic and something kinda beautiful about a satellite dish sitting next to a yert in one of the most remote regions on the planet. The herders devotion to and dependence upon their animals, and their stubborn clinging to a harsh land, will be alien to most viewers of the film. Their young son’s excitement over seeing video games in town — a two-day camel ride away — won’t be.

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