Combining drama and documentary, The Story Of The Weeping Camel is a lovingly observed and fascinating journal of day-to-day survival in the Mongolian Gobi desert. For a family of herders who happily eke out their living in this remote dustbowl, crisis comes in the shape of a newborn camel rejected by its mother after an agonising birth. They undertake to rear the calf by hand, but the longer he's denied his mother's milk, the more likely it is the little camel will die.
After failed efforts to reconcile mother and baby, the family dispatches young Dude (Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar) and his little brother Ugna (Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar) to ride across the plains and fetch help. But rather than a veterinarian, it is a violinist (Munkhbayar Lhagvaa) who's called upon to conduct an ancient ritual thought to inspire a maternal instinct so strong, it brings a tear to the eye.
"ACHINGLY ROMANTIC AND BRUTALLY STARK"
The camel of the title is merely a vehicle for directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni to get across the bigger picture, about a dramatically different way of life that's all at once achingly romantic and brutally stark. And while it may not actually move you to weep, the film is surprisingly stirring. Watching the expressive interaction between the animals, it's difficult to believe they weren't spawned from Jim Henson's Creature Shop - except that the puppets in Henson's menagerie could never do melodrama.
The human aspect of the story is less poignant but equally fascinating. In the same way that Nanook Of The North opened a window on Eskimo life over 80 years ago, western minds will marvel at the resilience of the Mongolian desert dwellers. Occasionally the film suffers from being a little too cute, with Disney-inspired sentiment undermining an otherwise subtly constructed story. Nonetheless, The Story Of The Weeping Camel is a cinematic oasis, both refreshing and thoroughly life-affirming.
In Mongolian with English subtitles.