Friday, 24 April 2009

Movie Review - The Story of the Weeping Camel

The Story of the Weeping Camel is a very unusual film made by German company THINKFilm in association with National Geographic. Set in Mongolia, it is more a documentary about the lives of a nomadic family than a conventional film, though there is a storyline woven into it.

Meet the Family

Janchiv Ayurzana - Janchiv (Great Grandfather)
Chimed Ohin - Chimed (Great Grandmother)
Amgaabazar Gonson - Amgaa (Grandfather)
Zeveljamz Nyam - Zevel (Grandmother)
Ikhbayar Amgaabazar - Ikchee (Father)
Odgerel Ayusch - Odgoo (Mother)
Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar - Dude (Older Brother)
Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar - Ugna (Younger Brother)
Guntbaatar Ikhbayar - Guntee (Baby Brother)

Meet the Camels

Ingen Temee (Mother)
Botok (Baby)

(There are others, but they are peripheral to the story – and anyway I don’t know their names!!!)


Such story as there is basically involved the efforts of the family to get the mother camel to accept its baby. After a very difficult birthing (taking three days), Ingen Temee rejected her newborn. Various efforts are made by the family, particularly Ikchee and Odgoo, to change her attitude – to no avail. So as a last resort, an ancient ritual needs to be performed (for some reason involving a violin) – and Dude, accompanied by Ugna, have to travel the desert to find a good player.


The storyline is sweet but essentially unimportant. There are long shots of the family members just going about their daily business of surviving. You see a camel being sheared, then you see the hair being plaited into a tough rope by the grandmother. You see how the family prepares to weather a sandstorm. Etc.

The film is very gritty – for instance, when you see the baby camel being born, you see everything – it’s not really for the squeamish! While for the most part this adds greatly to the fascination of the film, there are a couple of things about this style that I was not impressed with. When the young boy is given a bath you see it all, and in any other film this would be decried as child pornography. In another scene you see him urinating and then immediately eating with unwashed hands. The first of the above-mentioned scenes was unnecessary and the second could give children watching the wrong idea. However they served as minor irritations rather than big issues in the movie.

The action is… absent. There really isn’t all that much that happens during the film, but the fact that you feel as if you are looking in on this family’s everyday life is quite compelling (not in a voyeuristic way!). Technology is almost totally foreign to these people, yet when confronted by the marvels of TV at the settlement they visit, Ugna is completely fascinated by it. His brothers reply to Ugna’s question of how much a TV would cost is “at least a few camels, and the electricity would cost at least a flock”. When he later asks his father if they could buy a TV, the reply is along the lines of “why would you want to sit all day and watch a piece of glass?”. The humour works nicely because it’s so unexpected when it happens (even though I’ve just told you about those ones, you won’t know when they’re coming!). The way the children struggle to appear interested in the presence of their aged distant relatives is also fun to watch!

The Story of the Weeping Camel is compelling viewing, mainly because it’s so different from what you normally see on the big screen. If you’re looking for thrills, spills, and excitement, head in another direction. But if you feel like seeing something intriguing, thoughtful, and unique, this fits the bill very nicely. I’ve given it 4 stars because I did feel there were certain aspects that could have been done better, but I’m very glad I did see it. (I have my wife to thank for that – if she hadn’t nagged me into seeing it, I probably never would have!)

Other Cast Members

Munkhbayar Lhagvaa - Munkbayar, violin teacher
Ariunjargal Adiya - Teacher's Assistant
Dogo Roljav - Relative Aimak I
Chuluunzezeg Gur - Relative Aimak II

Written and Directed by:

Byambasuren Davaa
Luigi Falorni

Official Website

No comments: