The Story of the Weeping Camel

The finest sad Mongolian camel film you're likely to see.

Released in 2003, certified UK-U. Reviewed on 16 Jul 2004 by Scott Morris
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Perhaps surprisingly, the cinematic event of the summer in this corner of the InterWeb isn't the ubiquitous Spidey 2. Effective a trailer as Raimi's webslinger has, the sense that it'll reduce to Spiderman with Knobs On is hard to escape. More intriguing and surfacing at a roughly similar time was this German funded, Mongolian set camel based drama, which isn't something you get to type every day. While on occasion it's difficult to know exactly what to make of this film, it's the flicks very distinctiveness of The Sad Camel Film, as I prefer to think of it, that makes it worth seeking out.

Set in the hardly luxurious Gobi desert, it follows the trials of a farming family as they look after their herds of goats and camels, focusing in particular on the troubled relationship of a mother camel named Ingeen Teeme who refuses to allow her newly born colt, Botok to suckle at her teet after a difficult delivery. Boo. This makes Botok sad, the rareness of his white fleece proving to be little comfort when faced with starving to death. While Odgoo (Odgerel Ayusch) and Ikchee (Ikhbayar Amgaabazar) do their best to reconcile the broken camel family unit, Ingeen Teeme's having none of it making Botok even less happy.

In the absence of a better idea, the elder generations of the clan including impressively mustachioed Janchiv (Janchiv Ayurzana), his wife Chimed (Chimed Ohin), Amgaa (Amgaabazar Gonson) and Zevel (Zeveljamz Nyam) order the younger members to what passes for the big city in that neck of the woods. Ugna (Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar) and the crossculture hilarity inducing Dude (Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar) head off on camelback to fetch the local music teacher Munkhbayar for a ritual singsong that not only rejoin mother and colt in harmony but makes Ingeen Teeme weep, perhaps in reparation for her offspring upsetting antics.

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While it's not exactly a documentary, and the cast have clearly taken direction to provide a bit more exposition of their day to day lives than they would seem to be entirely comfortable with, the basis for the film was simply for the directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni to follow this family around and see what happens, so I've no reason to doubt that there's any stunt camel switcheroos or any other shenanigans. At any rate, as the potted description of the narrative shows this film isn't necessarily about the 'actors' contained therein, be they human or dromedarian in nature.

There's something unique about the area of the desert shown here, at least as far as cinematic portrayals go. Whereas Hollywood tends to focus on the sheer abundance of sand which can grow a little bland (last seen in Hidalgo), this almost qualifies as scrubland in places. Somehow the sight of nature in all forms struggling against the harsh climate makes us a little more receptive to the added individual struggles poor little Botok and those around her face.

Seeing this close knit family band together against the harsh environment they find themselves in, bereft of all the gadgets and gizmos I seem to have devoted a lifetime to collecting (you may take my life, but not my Neo Geo Pocket Color) is as touching as it is alien. At the risk of ruining the tough, no nonsense world weary reputation I like to pretend that I've built up, hearing the plaintive yelps of lil' Botok is near-heartbreaking in a way any number of formulaic wannabe tearjerkers can come anywhere near. The poor little camel just looks so sad, dammit. Sniff.

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It's difficult to come up with a way to judge The Sad Camel Film, because there's so little to compare it against. The closest I can think of off the top off my dimwitted little head would be Historias Minimas, in tone if not content. Largely silent, expressions and landscapes telling a story defined more by locations than events, it's the kind of movie that requires a certain frame of mind and attitude to get the most out of. Certainly not for everybody, and even for the more broadminded cinema attendee the thought watching a movie about a sad Mongolian camel requires a slight leap of faith. If you're in the mood for something different, this will deliver something that you've never come close to encountering before in a multiplex and in this jaded day and age that's something worth seeing.

Frankly, this is the kind of film that is difficult to claim a great affection for without sounding a tad pretentious, but seeing as that's one of my defining characteristics anyhow I'm proud to say this is an exceptionally interesting and rewarding film despite recognising that it's not everyone's cup of tea by a long chalk. If you're fed up of comic book translations and awful horror movies you could certainly do worse than go see perhaps the finest camel based entertainment the world is likely to see.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Byambasuren Davaa
Luigi Falorni
Cast list:
Janchiv Ayurzana (Janchiv)
Chimed Ohin (Chimed)
Amgaabazar Gonson (Amgaa)
Zeveljamz Nyam (Zevel)
Ikhbayar Amgaabazar (Ikchee)
Odgerel Ayusch (Odgoo)
Enkhbulgan Ikhbayar (Dude)
Uuganbaatar Ikhbayar (Ugna)
Guntbaatar Ikhbayar (Guntee)