“The Story of the Weeping Camel”
Posted to www.marxmail.org on January 6, 2006
“The Story of the Weeping Camel” is a beautifully filmed and
completely engrossing movie about the lives of Mongolian sheepherders in the
While Flaherty’s approach was to simply document the lives of Inuits, who are the distant relatives of Mongolians, the directors of “The Story of the Weeping Camel” decided to construct their film as kind of folk tale, not much different than those told by the elders in the film to their grandchildren late at night within the confines of the spare but gorgeously appointed yurts they dwell in.
The first third or so of the film depicts an extended family as they go about their daily tasks. In one scene the men cut the beard from a camel which a female village elder weaves into rope. I was immediately reminded of how the Northern Plains Indians made use of every inch of the bison, either for food, clothing or shelter, etc. Such peoples can teach industrialized societies a thing or two about recycling.
Every spring it is time for the camels to give birth. For one camel, this is a painful ordeal as her rare white colt comes out feet first. When she refuses to accept her offspring, the villagers decide to carry out a ritual to reconcile the two beasts. Since the ritual requires a musical offering, two brothers are dispatched on camel-back to a distant town to recruit a master violinist.
While they are there, the younger gazes in wonder at a television set at a local store. The happy ending of this film involves a positive outcome for the ritual as well as a new television and satellite dish. The fact that such “primitive” peoples can happily reconcile ancient customs with new technology counters Jerry Mander’s warning in “In the Absence of the Sacred” that television and other such devices can spoil them.
How “The Story of the Weeping Camel” got made is a story in
itself. As a film student in
As inspiring as this film is, I could not stop thinking about the 1996 Monthly Review article that describes the collapse of Soviet Mongolia, which concludes as follows:
“Beggars and the homeless are now on the streets in freezing
winters that reach minus 40 degrees. Though restaurant waiters and hotel staff
may proudly decline service tips, and rural herding families in their ghers (traditional dome-shaped tents) still offer free
meals to passing travellers, pickpockets now haunt
buses, prostitutes line the karaoke bars, and some children live in sewers. And
the Western NGOs, churches, and charities have joined the armies of aid-workers
to perform their good deeds in
Ultimately, the redemption of such people will depend on the renaissance of socialism which Marx and Engels were anxious to point out will synthesize the values of primitive communism with the technology of advanced capitalist society.