Susan Granger’s review of “The Eagle Huntress” (Sony Pictures Classics)
For 12 generations, the men of Nurgaiv’s family have been masters of the art of eagle hunting, a Kazakh falconry tradition in Western Mongolia that goes back some 2,000 years – to before Genghis Khan.
Now, shy, soft-spoken 13 year-old Aisholpan is determined to become the first female in her family included in this ancient father/son ritual.
Since an eagle can have only one master, first Aisholpan must capture hers. That involves scrambling down a sheer rock cliff, secured by a rope, to seize a three month-old golden eaglet from the nest as her mother circles overhead.
This young female eagle will live, train and hunt with Aisholpan for seven years – until she releases it into the wild, so nature’s cycle of life can continue.
After months of enthusiastic training with her supportive father Agalai, rosy-cheeked Aisholpan enters the annual Golden Eagle Festival, a renowned rivalry, competing against 70 of the greatest Kazakh eagle hunters.
Not surprisingly, the chauvinistic tribal elders are firmly opposed, noting societal constraints like “Women get cold” and “Women belong in the kitchen.”
Then courageous Aishopan faces her greatest challenge, an exhausting rite-of-passage, riding on horseback into the frigid Altai Mountains with her father, enduring 40-below-zero temperatures and waist-high snow drifts, to kill a fox with her eagle, proving she is, indeed, a real huntress
Executive produced and narrated by Daisy Ridley (Rey in “Star Wars”), it’s a unique coming-of-age tale, as exuberant Aisholpan proves that a young woman’s dreams can come true.
Astutely directed by Otto Bell, sharply edited by Takal, and sublimely photographed by Simon Niblett, it offers an intriguing glimpse into nomadic family life in a yurt (even one with solar panels) and features decorative costumes, sewn by Aishopan’s mother, Alma Dalaykan.
The end credits song, “Angel by the Wings,” by Australian pop artist Sia, assures YA audiences “You can do anything!”
In Kazakh with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Eagle Huntress” is a stunning, soaring 7, a heroic adventure.