Friday, July 2, 2004

The Story of the Weeping Camel

This is one of the most satisfying movies I have ever seen, possibly because it is true to life. In the southern Gobi Desert families of nomads raise camels. A camel has a long and painful delivery and refuses to let her baby near her. It will die unless she can be persuaded to take it back. That will happen after she weeps when listening to a traditional song played on the violin. This is a simple story but one that is much more cheerful that the subject would sound. In the process we see how the family lives and, when the two boys are sent to town to fetch a musician, we see how modernization is creeping in. It fascinates the younger boy who loves to watch television but, interestingly to me, the older boy does not seem tempted by it. As painful as it was to watch the baby camel cry for his mother and run to catch her, it was equally joyful when the music worked its charms and she relented. Watching the "reunited" pair was really unbelievable and it is undeniable that the music is what did the trick.

I discovered when reading Roger Ebert's review that this was not strictly filmed as it happened but that makes it a no less valid look at these people and their way of life.
The movie has been made in the same way that Robert Flaherty made such documentaries as "Nanook of the North," "Men of Aran" and "Louisiana Story." It uses real people in real places and essentially has them play themselves in a story inspired by their lives. That makes it a "narrative documentary," according to the filmmakers. A great many documentaries are closer to this model than their makers will admit; even "cinema verite" must pick and choose from the available footage and reflect a point of view.

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