THE EAGLE HUNTRESS
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Otto Bell
Written by: Otto Bell
Cast: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Rhys Nurgaiv, Kuksyegyen Almagul, Boshai Dalaikhan
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 11/30/16
Opens: November 2, 2016
One of the most popular TV game shows ever was “What’s My Line,” which ran from 1950 to 1967 and was parodied by Woody Allen in “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex.” Celebrity contestants would try to guess the occupation of an individual who has an unusual profession, asking yes or no questions. Among the most famous occupations was one held by a fella who claimed to be a “saggar makers’ bottom knocker.”
Here’s another occupation that was probably never utilized during the program’s seventeen years. “Eagle Huntress.” One might assume that it would be difficult enough for an American panel to guess “Eagle Hunter,” but the “Huntress” use is important in this film. Why? Because in Western Mongolia, there is an ample supply of eagle hunters, but as of the making of Otto Bell’s movie, there was only one female. And she was thirteen years of age!
The film, which does not follow the purist rules of verité documentaries in that it was obviously manipulated in the editing room, describes two basic situations in the western part of the sovereign state of Mongolia (aka Outer Mongolia). One focuses on a contest with seventy participants in which a pair of teamed contestants encourage an eagle to fly from the arm of one, who is on a higher ground, to the arm of the teammate below. The contest is timed and points are given. The other involves the difficult job of hunting foxes in the winter, where temperatures can go as long as -40 Fahrenheit. The eagle is released and chases down an unhappy fox which, once caught, is mangled to death. This is achieved without much of a hitch by the hero, Aisholpan Nurgaiv, who teams with her father. They travel together on separate horses for three days to reach the area, eagle on shoulder with a helmet shielding the bird’s eyes until the climax of the hunt.
“The Eagle Huntress” should win cinematography awards, if not from the Academy, then perhaps from Golden Globes, or even the more prestigious New York Film Critics Online. Mongolia has the fewest inhabitants per square mile of any country in the world despite its ravishing mountain beauty, though its appeal to Americans wanting a change of country after January 20 may fail, given that its many residents outside the major city of Ulan Baton live in yurts. No electricity, plumbing, vegetables or fruits, these limits having something to do with the missing teeth on the adults. Somehow our heroic huntress has a beautiful set, for now. If she wins the Oscar for best actress she will probably be flown to Hollywood where she will likely emigrate and give her country the bird.
This is a film that lobbies for father-daughter bonding. There is not a thing dysfunctional about this family, the dad supporting his gifted daughter not only for her courage and athletic ability for also for her straight-A academics. (The school in the Altai Mountains teaches English, of special value if the title Kazakh winds up in La La land.)
Most of all, “The Eagle Huntress,” while not necessarily a slam-dunk product placement for tourism to Mongolia, is a feminist tract. Aisholpan is the only female to get out of the kitchen and do like the men, though at the festival she is cheered by the crowd after defeating sixty-nine others—which is probably a break from pure documentarianism. Did she really do better than men with decades of experience?
The G rating makes the movie quite kid-friendly, and what’s more adults can enjoy it as well. I know this for certain because I did. The Sony Classics picture is wonderful, soaring, exotic. The film is in the Kazakh language with nice, bold, yellow English subtitles. The inhabitants thereof are Muslims, a religion representing three percent of the Mongolian people.
Rated G. 87 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – B+