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The Story Of The Weeping Camel

     Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Farloni met at film school in Munich, where Davaa, from Mongolia, told Farloni, from Italy, a sad story of what sometimes happens in her native country, when a mother camel rejects her colt. Inspired, the two traveled to the Mongolian Gobi desert wishing, as co-filmmakers, to capture on celluloid what Davaa had described. They made friends with an extended family of nomads who owned a flock of camels, and whom they filmed "being themselves," Nanook of the North style. Each March in Mongolia, camels on cue give birth. In Spring 2002, the filmmakers got lucky beyond hope, for they bore witness to the remarkable happenings which became the basis for The Story of the Weeping Camel, among the best films of 2004.

     Brace yourself for an emotional, heart-wrenching movie evening. One of the most forlorn, depressing sounds you have ever heard is a baby camel howling in the night because his mother won't have anything to do with him. Poor, poor Botok (that's his name), the sweet, white-haired colt whose brown-haired mama, Ingen Temee, knees him when he tries to suckle, races away when he comes for a snuggle. Yes, it's the most primal of scenes, and who watching won't feel some stirring of Oedipal separation anxiety at Botok's plight?

     Without being heavy-handed, the filmmakers place the frustatrions of Botok in a context of maternal nurturing everywhere about him. It's the neighboring camel, who also recently gave birth, allowing its offspring to rub against her hump. It's an old lady singing to a lamb. It's the women of the nomad family lifting bawling infants into their comforting arms. Poor, poor Botok.

     There's a potential native cure, music said to soothe the two-humped beast. The nomad children--stone-faced teenager Dude and his animated, energetic younger brother, Ugna--ride camels into town to seek help from a professional violinist. Here's a slight but diverting subplot, with the boys away from their family yert, excited to be in "civilization." They buy radio batteries at an open market, visit a school, and Ugna discovers the marvels of watching TV.

     Back at the yert: a bonafide miracle happens before the camera. Who needs the Passion According to Mel when you can witness the angry, barking Ingen Temee calmed down by a stringed musical instrument hung from one of her humps?

     And then the singing comes (almost a Gobi delta blues), with a plaintive refrain on the two-string intrument. Will the mother camel respond, moved to big, plopping, camel tears? Will little Botok drink his mother's milk at last?

     I yawned when E.T. went home, felt annoyed by the piano-playing triumph at the end of Shine, and when the girls sighted their soccer star at the finale of Bend It Like Beckham. With The Story of a Weeping Camel, I'm a believer!

(June, 2004)

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