I'd Walk A Mile For This One

What a strange movie. Without ceremony, The Story of the Weeping Camel plunks you down in Southern Mongolia, in a part of the Gobi Desert that makes Death Valley look inviting. There you witness the daily round of a nomad family who live entirely off their small herd of sheep and camels. And while these people are quite appealing with their thick colorful garments, their capable calloused hands, and their tender but unsentimental tending of both beast and kin, you still wonder what you are doing there.

Then the story kicks in. I use the word "kick" advisedly, because if you are squeamish about the hindquarters of large animals, you will not enjoy the sequence where a pregnant camel walks around for the better part of two days with the legs of a gawky half-born albino colt sticking out of her rear. As you might imagine, she is not comfortable. Lying down, rolling over, getting up and walking around some more, she cannot get the colt to come out.

Finally the people grab the legs, yank really hard, and pull the colt out. The mother is so relieved, she trots away, leaving the colt to fend for itself. She doesn't want it, and although it whimpers pitifully, and the people try everything to get her to nurse it, she couldn't care less. At one point she even kicks the poor little thing in the head.

If you are not already engrossed, you will be when the two youngest boys ride camelback 50 kilometers to the nearest town, where they hire, of all things, a musician. While in town they also encounter bicycles, satellite dishes, TVs, and slouching teenagers in Western dress. But curiously, the movie does not seem to be about the usual clash between tribal purity and modern corruption. On the contrary, the boys' other errand is to buy batteries for their grandfather's radio -- a detail that suggests these two worlds have been coexisting for quite some time. If this is one of those films about how wonderful life was before modern media, it's pretty subtle about it.

Then you forget about such abstract themes, because the musician rides out to the nomad encampment (on a motorcycle) and plays his instrument, accompanied by the singing of the boys' mother. Charmed by the music, the neglectful mother allows the baby to nurse, weeping great Mongolian camel tears while she does so. If this doesn't cause you to shed a few of your own, then you are even more ornery than a dromedary. Which is mighty ornery.

August 2, 2004 5:30 AM |

Categories:

Soundtrax

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