One of the feature-length documentaries nominated at this year's Academy Awards, "The Story of the Weeping Camel" is a justly-praised film, one that might not be as powerful as the winning "Born Into Brothels" but moving nonetheless.
"Weeping Camel" is a lighthearted, entertaining and interesting look at a family on the Mongolian frontier who raise camels and goats in the wind-swept Gobi Desert. The plot is simple: when one of the camels gives birth and rejects its baby, the family goes to extraordinary efforts to bring them together, including traveling to the nearest town to fetch a violinist to perform a ritual.
The best thing about "Weeping Camel" is that it is completely appropriate for little children but is also equally engaging for adults. Kids - and adults - who like animals will take great joy in watching the various livestock, and while camels are probably one of the uglier species on the planet, they are also very entertaining to watch. Most enjoyable is the little boy, Ugna, who has the tenacity of any other child in the world, but who, of course, has grown up under severely different circumstances.
To me, the most interesting part of the film was when Ugna and his older brother Dude (yes, that's his name) travel to town to save the baby camel. For much of the movie, we are shown a lifestyle that probably hasn't changed very much for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but when the two boys get to town it suddenly becomes clear that they are indeed living in the 21st century. Funny enough, it was only at this point that I realized that the little boy was wearing an Adidas hat. The mixture of new and old and the way these people manage the mix is the most intriguing part of the movie.
Of all the Best Documentary nominees, the only other film I've seen so far has been "Super Size Me," and while that was a fun and oftentimes disturbingly delightful film, I liked the mood and feel of "Weeping Camel" much more. Documentaries are generally much better when we don't see the person making the film and "Weeping Camel" has a very authentic feel to it. Since we never see the filmmakers, "Weeping Camel" really allows the audience to believe it is in the middle of Mongolia without any modern technology in sight. Kudos go to the people responsible for the film as they have easily made one of the best documentaries in a long time.
"The Story of the Weeping Camel" is a moving, fun and enlightening look at life in the Gobi Desert, and will appeal to both children and adults. If you're interested in foreign cultures or simply like animals, this one is a must see.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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