Trivium Pursuit

The Story of the Weeping Camel

I heard about “The Story of the Weeping Camel” on NPR radio. It won some awards as a documentary so I ordered it from Netflix.

This movie is cute. The camels are cute and gross and the Mongolian people are strange and similar to us. The desert is very dry and dusty and I wish I could ride a camel.

The story opens in the Gobi Desert among the Mongolian people. These people live in little huts and their life depends on goats and camels. It is a simple life. The film centers around one family – a grandmother and grandfather and their children and grandchildren who all live together – and the camels that give them transportation and clothing and lots of other things that are too gross to mention.

It is camel birthing season and the last camel to give birth is having trouble. It gives birth and the baby is a rare white camel. But the mother doesn’t want her child. So the desert farmer family tries to convince the mother to let her baby nurse. The story is basically the family’s struggle to save this baby. They finally resort to a folk remedy of bringing a musician from a distant city to play music and hypnotize the mother into letting the baby nurse and thereby accepting it. The mother camel cries at the end.

It is a very simple movie. The people speak only Mongolian. We read English subtitles. They live a simple life. They want very few things. Their life is primitive with the whole family living in one room of a hut and eating goat milk tea and rice, but with a few modern things like t-shirts and a battery-powered radio sprinkled in.

What makes this movie interesting is the simplicity and honesty of the presentation. I felt sorry for the family and for the mother camel and for the baby. When the movie was over, I felt like they could be me and their problems could be simplified versions of my own. At the same time, their life was very alien.

The only slightly objectionable scene is when the Mongolian mother gives her little boy a bath. My mother wanted to watch because it was cute, but we didn’t let her.

The whole movie was staged and the family was just a bunch of native actors. We were surprised to learn this at the end. It looked so real.

My whole family didn’t want to watch this movie at first because they thought it was going to be another of my eccentric movies, but they watched all the way to the end and said they liked it. So, I ordered “The March of the Penguins” for next time. We’ll see if they like that one.

Has anyone else seen this movie? What did you think of it?

Nathaniel (you can email Nathaniel at nathaniel at bloomingthorn dot com)

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