He is in the camel business & he is calling you “DUDE!”…
The back of the DVD case for “The Story of the Weeping Camel” contains a rather telling classification guide:
“Universal: Suitable for all.
Violence: Scene of animal being born [I kid you not].
This, I am afraid to say, rather neatly sums it up. There was hardly any dialogue. The “violence” (I’ve never heard the birth process being described as violence before, but still) was over within the first ten minutes. And otherwise: – well, “none” is pretty fair.
Now usually, I’m quite game for this sort of thing: Slow moving I can do (Tarkovsky’s Solaris: check); German expressionism I can do (Werner Herzog: seen them all); moody nature/wilderness films set in Mongolia I can do (Derzu Uzala: check). The Mongolian hinterland fascinates me. But, all the same, this one had me snookered.
I mean, what is it? A documentary or a scripted feature? It seems to be a documentary, but it doesn’t feel like one. (How did the German film crew know there was going to be a Rejected White Baby Camel ahead of time? What did the Mongolians make of the German film crew? Now *that* would have made for an interesting documentary.) Are we expected to believe that a bunch of guys from Munich with a steady-cam were just loafing around in Ulan Batoor and happened to catch this by chance? Was the Rejected White Baby Camel narrative a happy coincidence during a routine documentary they happened to be making about a family living a fairly boring life in the middle of nowhere? (Sample dialogue – “I think the last colt will not now be born today.” “No. Perhaps Tomorrow.” and “Come on! hurry up! Let’s go!”. But let’s go *where*? You’re in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Where is there to go? What’s the hurry?). What on earth possessed them to go to Mongolia to make a film like that?
On the other hand, if it’s a dramatic feature, where is the drama? The Mongolian family seems to be a well adjusted, harmonious, thoughtful, nice bunch of people (and they’ve called one of their kids DUDE!) But that’s the problem: (perhaps out of some sort of cross-cultural respect) the film makers can’t bring themselves to suggest any sort of imbalance in the family’s way of life (apart from a grumpy camel). They feed the Rejected White Baby Camel by hand. They earnestly summon some sort of priest who lights some candles, make model camels out of clay and starts singing to them, I suppose on the off chance that this might help. But all the while the poor Rejected White Baby Camel is in reasonably caring hands (perhaps misguided from the point of view of animal husbandry).
So, other than to satisfy a vaguely voyeuristic need to see foreign people behaving eccentrically, what do we learn from this? The film never conveys the sense of scope to be a tragedy. The Rejected White Baby Camel is going to be okay. We are confident of that throughout.
So much so that by 40 minutes I had already started leafing through a magazine. Shortly afterwards the wife and I looked at each other, decided we’d seen enough, that we were happy enough to leave the Rejected White Baby Camel in the caring hands of these Mongolian folk: that it would pull through. We turned over to the news.