Making the Grades
An old saying goes, "I can't stand to see a grown man cry." After this movie, that statement will rank a far second behind, "I can't stand to see a grown camel cry."
The Story of the Weeping Camel is truly unique in every respect. Not easily pigeonholed, it is difficult at times to even ascertain whether you are watching a documentary or a dramatic film. And that is exactly what Mongolian director Byambasuren Davaa wanted to accomplish.
Shooting in the Gobi desert, she and her Italian co-director Luigi Falorni, faced challenges that could have sent a Hollywood softie running for cover under his monogrammed canvas chair. 150 kilometer per hour winds, huge temperature fluctuations between night and day, a sparse crew of a half dozen people (all of whom reportedly became ill at some point during their month-long filming time) and associated equipment malfunctions, give this movie even more validity.
The narrative revolves around a three-generation family of herders who face a crisis when one of their camels rejects its colt. (The explicit pictures of the baby camel being born may make some sensitive stomachs a little queasy.) The rare white offspring is weak and in need of its mother's milk, warmth and care. Pulling at our heartstrings further, pictures of other mommy camels bonding with their babies as they wash and cuddle together, are edited between shots of the lonely little white animal crying throughout the day for his disinterested parent.
But there is a time-honored cure for this problem. When all other efforts fail, the owners decide they must request a musician from the village to come and perform the special ritual that will reunite the pair. Sending their two sons to town on the backs of a couple of other camels, the young boys return the next day with the violinist not far behind.
What follows is one of the most amazing movie climaxes ever put to screen. As the musician plays his two stringed instrument, the second generation mother of the herder family, named Odgoo, sings a special song to the female camel while the men-folk hold the dejected and fearful youngster near. After some time, the reluctant mother becomes sympathetic to her colt... so much so that tears flow from her eyes.
Was this a faked effect? Not according to Davaa who claims the centuries-old tradition rarely fails... and that mother camels often literally weep for their children.
Along with the camels, this movie offers a rare insight into family life in outer Mongolia. The human children are especially interesting, as they assist their parents in this brutal environment. But while it appears they are living in utter isolation, a Nike jacket adorns one child, and another begs his father for a television. (First, they'll require electricity!)
Part of National Georgraphic's "World Films" series, you can learn more about this truly fascinating movie through its accompanying websites(www.weeplingcamelmovie.com and www.nationalgeographic.com/weepingcamel). Both provide a host of information about the film's production and the culture of the people portrayed.
More fact than fiction, The Story of the Weeping Camel is a great combination of reality and drama, which is worthy of your family's time.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Story of the Weeping Camel.
Many of the scenes in this film were filmed as they naturally occurred, including the birth of the white camel, and its mother’s rejection. (You can read the details of this fascinating account on the film’s website.) Other aspects of the story and minor transitions between scenes were acted. What does this tell you about our ability, as a viewer, to distinguish fact from fiction in media?
The young boy in this family yearns for a television. Another character comments on how, in the big city, kids play video games all day. Do you think this family’s lack of media appliances (televisions, games, music) has affected them in a positive or negative way? How do you think their life may change after the introduction of a television?