The Story of the Weeping Camel

The story is simple. A camel, after a difficult labour, rejects its calf, which faces slow starvation. The herders’ techniques to get the mother’s acceptance of the calf fail, and so they try traditional magic, singing to the camel to fiddle accompaniment.

That’s it, and it hardly sounds gripping. I saw it with two ‘cool’ teenagers, distinctly unenthralled by the prospect of their first Mongolian film – with subtitles – about the lives and tribulations of camels and camel-herding. But they loved it.

The nomads’ dependence on the natural world, and their very different, slower rhythm of life, is captivating. People never seem to be acting, and the youngest children clearly aren’t, and – this is no idealization of the natural life – are fascinated by TV.

Weeping Camel is scripted, but it has the look and feel of a documentary, using real people in their own environment, dramatizing a typical, though invented, real-life situation. It works beautifully.

mag cover This article is from the August 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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