Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Story of the Weeping Camel

This is another amazing film featuring the nomads of the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. For me, it evoked a similar reaction to watching The Cave of the Yellow Dog reviewed here. This is more a drama as opposed to a documentary although is does have a docu feel about it. There's more info on the film and camels in general on the National Geographic site here.

This film offers the gift of engaging with a culture that is radically different from anything familiar to most people. The extended family live in two Yurts and have a walled enclosure for their sheep and goats. Their livelihood flows from the products and by-products of these animals and also the camels. It is a hard life which is lived in a brutal climate. No-one complains and the children never seem bored although the odd encounter with a TV entrances the younger boy Ugna. 

Each spring the camels give birth to a new season of colts. Things are going well until a new mother, the last to produce, is in labour for two days wandering around the camp with half a camel hanging out. This is, understandably, an excruciating time for the camel and the family look on helplessly in the hope that nature will take its course. In the end they intervene and help the colt to emerge - a rare white colt. The mother shuns the colt denying it her love and her milk.

As the family repeatedly try to bring colt and mother together over many days we are treated to a privileged and intimate view of family life in the Gobi Desert. A life that draws on an inherited spirituality that is earth-focussed and tied into the natural world. Milk is sprinkled on the ground as a thanksgiving sacrifice. Songs are sung and stories are told to keep alive the communal identity of the people.

Odgoo manages to milk the mother and get some of the milk into the colt - but it isn't easy. Clearly a solution is needed before the colt falls too far behind in its development. Drawing on their religion, the two young boys Dude and Ugna are despatched on camel back to the local town to seek the help of the violinist whose playing will help reunite mother and colt. The idea of sending two young boys off alone across the desert on such an errand would invoke cries of child-abuse in the politically correct West. The boys go about their task as a storm begins to gather. They reach the town and find their relatives who help them speak to the music teacher - the violinist.

The boys return to the family camp alone and a mood of disappointment settles on the family. The following day a motorbike appears on the horizon bouncing across the sand and riding pillion is the violinist. After an appropriate ritual the violinist plays, Odgoo sings (most beautifully) and with the encouragement of the family mother and colt and reunited and suckling gets underway. No explanation is offered or hinted at to explain how we achieve the happy ending - but a happy ending it is.

Or is it? As the camera pulls away from the Yurts we see Dude positioning the newly acquired satellite dish to pick up the signal for the new TV powered by solar panels lying on the Yurt. I sense the intervention of the film crew and the money they brought may change this family's life, irrevocably, for ever! Ugna will not be doing quite so much work around the Yurt now he has TV to watch and the outside world will invade the family's routines and patterns of being. Possibly delivering a more devastating invasion to the Gobi desert than that of Genghis Khan 800 years earlier! This is an uplifting film that gives us a view of another world. I can't help thinking that more than footprints were left in the sand when the film crew departed. I'll give it 7/10.

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