The Story of the Weeping Camel is the tale of a multi-generational family that lives in the deserts of Mongolia with a large herd of goats and camels. It's springtime, and the camels are giving birth. One mother has a particularly difficult time, and when the colt is finally born she rejects her offspring. At first, the family does all it can to bring mother and child back together, but she's obstinate and refuses to let the colt nurse. So they turn to an old ritual involving a violin and singing.
Part documentary, part ethnography and part fiction, Weeping Camel is a thoroughly compelling mix. The opening half of the movie introduces the ways of a semi-nomadic Mongolian family. We see how they cook, herd and relate to each other. We're present at a tribal ritual which welcomes the onset of spring. And we witness the shearing of a camel as well as a spectacular live birth.
Co-directors Luigi Falorni and Byambasuren Davaa have a wonderful eye for the desert landscape, and their widescreen compositions—especially at sunset—are stunning. But they also have a natural feel for the lives of their subjects. Inside the large canvas tents, the camera records the way a grandmother treats her crying granddaughter, the bathing of a young boy, the communal singing during a storm and two elderly folks playing cards. Part of the appeal is in the exotic nature of such scenes, but there's also the wonder of realizing that people half a world away aren't that much different from ourselves. When a young boy has a chance to watch television, he's transfixed, which provokes an older woman to remark, "Sit properly at the table and don't stare at the TV."
But the film focuses most on the mother camel and her estranged colt. The herd of camels assumes a dignity rarely given animals on screen. The close-ups of their inscrutable eyes are both beautiful and haunting. And the ritual at the end is magical. The Story of the Weeping Camel won't get a huge marketing push, so you'll have to keep your ears open. But don't miss it. It's one of the best films you'll see this year.