Has any animal inspired more curious fables and proverbs than the camel ("a horse designed by a committee")? The Mongolian nomads of the Gobi desert, shepherds who live close to these unlikeliest of God’s creatures, have their share of camel myths, and during the course of this utterly delightful "narrative documentary" we hear accounts explaining why the camel has no antlers, and is not one of the twelve animals one of the twelve animals of the Eastern zodiac.
None of these camel myths seems as curious, improbable, and magical as The Story of the Weeping Camel itself. Presented by National Geographic, the film relates the birth of a rare white camel calf among the herds of an extended family of four generations living under one roof in the wilderness, and of the camel calf’s struggle for survival after its mother, traumatized by the difficult labor, rejects it and refuses to allow it to suckle. How this family of herders deals with this small crisis is an unguessable miracle that will delight children and adults alike.
The timeless way of life of these nomads is an exotic curiosity, not only to the viewer, but also, it turns out, to other Mongolians who live in more populated areas, who wear blue jeans and sweaters instead of the traditional deel or robe, and ride bikes or motorcycles instead of camels. An urgent mission sends the two boys first to a small outpost, then to a sizable settlement in search of an individual with a rare skill. The juxtaposition of cultures — in the settlements the younger boy is transfixed by cartoons on television, and wonders how many sheep it would cost to buy one, while in the desert Buddhist monks offer prayers to make atonement for the excesses of modern consumption — is just one of the film’s rewarding themes.
With relatively little dialogue and a narrative as uneventful as desert life, this film is as unique as the title animal: unrushed as a donkey, shaggy as a llama, sturdy as a horse — and, it turns out, with a sensitive soft spot for music. Who’d’a thunk? The Story of the Weeping Camel is a quiet joy.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.