To be fair, The Story of the Weeping Camel, which I watched last night, does have its moments. Some of the photography is gorgeous; the camels are fascinating animals to watch; and it’s cheaper than actually visiting a village in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
But Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, it was mind-numbingly boring to a degree I could not have previously imagined.
I blame those wacky German filmmakers.
I mean, okay, I acknowledge its achievements as “narrative documentary” and “ethnographic filmmaking”, but the entire plot can be summed up in less than twenty-five words. Not just the concept– the actual, complete story.
And the characters are presented so passively that I didn’t care about most of them, one way or the other. The exceptions were the brothers, Dude (which I’m sure is pronounced “duh-day” or something, but I kept thinking: Jeff Lebowski?) and Ugna (which is the diminutive form of his full name, but I kept thinking of those pig-faces from Cloud City), who ride out from the village to find musicians to perform a ritual to get the titular mother camel to allow her calf to nurse.
And that’s another thing: I can respect ancient cultures and hokey religions and even Gaian mysticism, but I don’t enjoy listening to it. I suppose the ritual with the lamas was supposed to be a contrast to the younger brother wanting a television set, but the debate is never developed. In the worst tradition of documentaries, the film doesn’t have a point of view. And that’s maddening for me, as a storyteller, to sit through.
Clearly, I’m not the right audience for this movie. Many other people loved it– hell, it was nominated for an Oscar– but I just couldn’t get into it. It’s one of those movies where you have to care about the subject matter beforehand. It doesn’t suck you in; it doesn’t explain why you should care about these people and their situation. It felt like a zoo exhibit, but even at the zoo, you get some kind of placard telling you what you’re looking at and why it matters.