Rating: PG for subtle desert melodrama. In Mongolian with English subtitles
Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
It’s a privilege to experience Byambasuren Davaa’s enchanting slice of life, a bygone existence that speaks of perfect simplicity and small pleasures.
Real-life Mongolian desert herders are at the heart of this sweet gem of a film, inspired by the early work of Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of the North). The Gobi-desert dwellers enact a delightful tale of a white baby camel, whose mother has turned on him after a difficult birth (pictured in – ouch! -- graphic detail).
Without mother’s milk, the newborn calf will not survive. The Ikhbayar family, who cherish their animals with a fierce nomadic pride, dig deep into their bag of tricks to coax the mother into nursing her young one. A musician is summoned from a distant village to weave his musical spell on mom camel, in the hopes that she will bond with her baby and “weep” with the pleasure of rekindling the connection (or so goes the ancient wisdom).
The production crosses the threshold into the Ikhbayar’s personal lives as they go about the daily business of raising four generations in colorful yurts (portable domed tents), erected fifty kilometers from the nearest civilization.
In a poignant and revealing scene, the youngest Ikhbayar boys are sent by camel to fetch batteries for their grandfather’s radio. Happily tethered to family traditions, their exposure to the contemporary “pleasures” of television and Game Boy is subtly disquieting.
Camel meanders a bit, relying on its emotionally-charged atmosphere to do the talking. Winds of up to 150 kilometers an hour, broken camera equipment, and plummeting desert temps stood in the way of this labor of love. The filmmakers persevered and we’re the better for it.