‘The Ea­gle Hun­tress’ is a heart­warm­ing all-ages tale

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

There is an an­cient tra­di­tion of fal­conry prac­ticed by the peo­ple of Mon­go­lia where burk­it­shi, or “ea­gle hunters,” train golden ea­gles to re­spond to their call and hunt hares and foxes in the frozen land­scape. It’s a skill and cer­e­mo­nial prac­tice that’s learned from age 13 and has been largely the do­main of men. En­ter Aishol­pan, a 13-year-old no­madic Kazakh girl who wants to be an ea­gle hunter. Her fa­ther is one. Her grand­fa­ther was too. And it’s a fam­ily tra­di­tion that dates back 12 gen­er­a­tions. It’s this shy, rosy cheeked and brave lit­tle girl whose story to be­come the first fe­male ea­gle hunter in her fam­ily is lov­ingly told in the documentary “The Ea­gle Hun­tress,” which is sure to in­spire and en­chant gen­er­a­tions of young chil­dren with its heart­warm­ing story and stun­ning lo­ca­tions.

It’s fit­ting that the film is nar­rated (and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced) by Daisy Ri­d­ley, who shep­herded the “Star Wars” uni­verse into a more em­pow­er­ing space for women with her por­trayal of the am­bi­tious and self-suf­fi­cient Jedi-in-train­ing Rey. Di­rec­tor Otto Bell em­beds the au­di­ence in Aishol­pan’s world, which looks both mod­ern and an­cient at the same time. She lives with her par­ents and sib­lings in a spa­cious yurt. Her mother cooks and cleans and her fa­ther herds goats and cat­tle across the Mon­go­lian Steppe. Aishol­pan helps out with the chores at home and is a top stu­dent who hopes one day to be­come a doc­tor. But first, she wants to fol­low in her fa­ther’s foot­steps and train ea­gles.

There is an ob­vi­ous girl power mes­sage in the film that’s spelled out loud and clear by both the nar­ra­tion and the fram­ing of Aishol­pan’s ac­com­plish­ments. Al­though her fa­ther and mother sup­port her dreams, Bell makes sure to show a room of el­der ea­gle hunters ex­press­ing doubts about a woman’s abil­ity to per­form the job be­cause they lack the nec­es­sary brav­ery and are “too frag­ile.” They might as well be twirling their mus­taches for how on the nose it all is.

In fact, there’s an over­rid­ing level of ar­ti­fice to “The Ea­gle Hun­tress” that’s hard to shake. Bell opts for re­al­ity show tech­niques to up the drama through­out, like a cut of Aishol­pan re­mov­ing her hat at a com­pe­ti­tion to re­veal she’s a girl jux­ta­posed with a shot of a man look­ing aghast while the mu­sic crescen­dos. Was he re­ally look­ing at her? Was it an au­then­tic mo­ment? As it plays out, it cer­tainly doesn’t feel real even if the spirit of truth is there. It’s some­thing that’s un­likely to bother or even reg­is­ter with younger au­di­ences and per­haps it’s even a nec­es­sary sto­ry­telling de­vice. But it does break the spell of this oth­er­wise en­chant­ing and quite sin­cere film.

It’s hard not to get swept up in Aishol­pan’s brav­ery and de­ter­mi­na­tion as she climbs down a rocky ter­rain to kid­nap her very own ea­gle, or as she braces for im­pact when her ea­gle swoops down to land on her arm. The drone shots of the land­scapes, too, are some­thing to be­hold. It is in­deed a rare and spe­cial story, and, as a film, it’s a whole­some lark that you’ll want to show your daugh­ters and sons. “The Ea­gle Hun­tress,” a Sony Pic­tures Clas­sic re­lease, is rated G by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica. Run­ning time: 87 min­utes. Three stars out of four. — AP

This im­age re­leased by Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics shows Aishol­pan in a scene from “The Ea­gle Hun­tress,” a documentary about a 13-year-old girl who trains to be­come an ea­gle hunter.

This im­age re­leased by Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics shows Aishol­pan, left, and her fa­ther Nur­gaiv in a scene from “The Ea­gle Hun­tress,” a documentary about a 13-year-old girl who trains to be­come an ea­gle hunter.

This im­age re­leased by Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics shows Aishol­pan in a scene from “The Ea­gle Hun­tress.” — AP pho­tos

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