The Eagle Huntress
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…understated in its treatment of female empowerment…
Aisholpan is a 13-year-old in the Mongolian-Manchurian mountain steppe with an unconventional dream – she wants to be an eagle hunter. Traditionally the vocation is inherited from father to son, and so she must endure harsh sub-zero climates and even harsher criticism from the Kazakh elders who disapprove of her occupation.
Aisholpan is no radical youth. She is disciplined with her schooling (with a view to becoming a doctor), assists in the domestic duties of her household and plays games with her family and friends. Her nature is unassuming but endearing, which allows her to be candid about the gravity of her task. Close-ups of her adorable smile and rounded face show her sheer glee when mastering her training. Before registering for the coveted annual Golden Eagle festival, she must scale a mountaintop to steal an eaglet from its nest. Aerial shots with a fish eye lens encapsulate the bond with her feathered female accomplice, who embodies loyalty and companionship. Even the bird exudes her own majestic beauty.
What distinguishes this movie is how understated it is in its treatment of female empowerment and the onset of modernity. Interviews from the dismissive patriarchal leaders initially appear to be melodramatic, although they are perhaps more grounded in disbelief. Father Nurgaiv’s unapologetic honesty about the difficulty of the mission is balanced by his touching patience with his daughter, and their bond is even more solidified than that with Aisholpan’s mother. They trek, hunt foxes and ride horses together, but he does not make concessions because of her gender. Her mother shares the same reservations about the potential backlash that will face her daughter, but her sincere support is genuine. “All I wish for is her safety and well being.” She needn’t worry. Aisholpan’s doubt is alleviated with her modest yet steady determination. “Girls can do anything that boys can if they try.”
On the day of the contest there has been so much foreshadowed anticipation that it’s difficult not to be invested in this girl’s quest. Visually, she is an outlier with her vivid fur costume contrasted against a line full of older stoic men dressed in black tunics. It’s almost absurd, but does allow for comic relief in moments of uncertainty. There is no formulaic safety barrier to guess the outcome when the footage is captured in real time, giving it all the more apprehension.
Undertaking this journey with our heroine, it does feel a times like an uphill trek. However, once we cross the threshold we are rewarded with an uplifting home stretch.
Star Wars belle Daisy Ridley narrates and executive produces alongside Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me).