Amra lives with his family in a nomad community in Mongolia. His mother Zaya tends their goats and his father Erdene is a mechanic who also sells goat cheese. There is a lot of singing in the family, and Amra’s great ambition is to appear on Mongolia’s Got Talent. And, whaddaya know? One day at school, teacher hands out application forms for MGT. All you need is the signature of one of your parents.
Trouble is, Amra’s parents have other things on their mind. There’s gold in that there desert, and international mining firms have sniffed the possibilities of making a profit. Erdene and Zaya set up a meeting of villagers to organise opposition. Everyone is enthusiastic, until it becomes pretty much clear that each one of them has sold off their land rights anyway.
After Erdene dies in a tragic car crash – the result of a bore hole caused by mining, Amra takes over the cause. He pours sugar into the fuel tanks of the mining equipment and suddenly Big Mining is on its knees. Amra later takes up work for a group of local miners, who are using more rudimentary equipment to bore for gold. They need someone as small as Amra to send down the pit.
This raises a number of interesting contradictions – is the problem that mining is despoiling the environment or that the profits are going to big business? Is digging for gold a sign of a society which has lost all its priorities, or is it just the case of local entrepeneurs versus big bad capitalists? It is in the nature of this film, that these questions are barely addressed.
So, we have a series of beautifully shot scenes of a seemingly innocent nomad life with occasional intrusions of modernity. Erdene has cobbled together a car from spare parts, but is proud of the Mercedes star on the bonnet. Amra and his friends gleefully watch youtube videos, and of course much of the plot hinges around Mongolia’s Got Talent. This raises many questions, but rarely deals with them adequately.
As the film progressed, I didn’t get much of a sense of development. Mining is obviously bad (at the end of the film we see the grim statistic that it now affects 20% of the Mongolian landscape), thus resistance is good, but this all somehow peters out. After the sugar incident, the big multinationals fade out of the story. And we are left with an ambiguous ending which at least hints that we can solve the world’s problems with a carefully selected song on a talent show.
We are also occasionally robbed of any meaningful dramatic tension. A huge thing is made of the fact that Erdene is too busy to sign Amra’s Mongolia’s Got Talent form, even though Amra is holding a pen in his hand and it would only take 2 seconds. Then, just as he is dropping his son off at school, he signs. It is all very anticlimactic and leaves us thinking “well, what was the point of all that”
For all this, Veins of the World is a righteous film, which is definitely on the right side of an increasingly important argument. And it looks spectacular. It is the sort of film that really needs to be made more often. Especially if I don’t have to go and watch it.
I think the film’s big problem is that is not sure whether it wants to be an investigation into the uncomplicated lives of nomads dealing with the good and evil of the encroachment of international capitalism or being a campaigning film against a serious threat to the world environment. I’d love to see either of those films, but by trying to do both, it ends up weakening its ability to do either.
But don’t take my grumpy word for it. There is much in the film to love and admire. Throughout its showing I was continually reminded of why I should be enjoying it much more than I actually was. Other people will