The Eagle Huntress: A Raving Review

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Photo Credit: Asher Svidensky

 

I have a new heroine. She’s called Aisholpan. She’s 13 years old. She is The Eagle Huntress.

This is a raving review, not only of a beautiful piece of film-making (an amazing undertaking by novice Otto Bell), but of a girl showing bravery, resilience and passion despite the not inconsiderable obstacles of tradition and terrain. Set in the stunning mountains of Mongolia, The Eagle Huntress is a documentary that looks at the nomadic way of life, tradition and progress on an intimate level. As viewers, we are privileged to experience the coming-of-age of an extraordinary girl. Aisholpan is a trailblazer, but all the more for how unremarkable she is in other ways. She goes to school, looks after her siblings, paints her nails, has dreams of becoming a doctor. She lives in a world that is changing – straddling the nomadic tradition and the increasingly modern world.

Aisholpan’s forebears are Eagle Hunters: revered members of the nomadic tribes, bringers of food and fur, masters of the majestic Golden Eagle and, always, men. It is a male inheritance, a male ancestry. This is a celebration of non-conformity. This is a story not only about a young woman, but about the men around her that have the strength to correct a long-lived falsehood – that women are not strong enough, resilient enough, patient enough. Instead they are proud to say, ‘Women are more than enough’.

Aged 13, Aisholpan proves herself to be a robust and talented individual, regardless of those factors which others have proclaimed must exclude her. Even the proof of their own eyes will not persuade the tribe elders of their misjudgement.  Aisholpan’s victory in the festival is received with discomfort and disregard. ‘It’s proof of a sort’, concedes one of the elders. The objection remains that Aisholpan has yet to prove herself beyond the arena, that she must succeed in the wilderness, too – only then will she be worthy. The catch-22 is that the objective is one of which they do not think her capable.

All too often this is true for those who are female, non-binary, of colour. Going beyond the achievement of the male (or oppressor of any kind) does not guarantee triumph, it does not even guarantee equality. Yet, it has been said that the best revenge is success. Fitting, then, that the film ends with Aisholpan catching her first fox, having weathered the brutal conditions of the mountains. There is abundant proof of her capability and even more of her contentedness.

The role of the Eagle Hunter or Huntress is vital for survival; it serves both a practical and a spiritual purpose. The meat and fur provided by the day’s hunt will keep the families alive. The connection between the eagle and the hunter is sacred. It is a partnership built on mutual dependence; it is a significant connection with the natural world.

Particularly moving was Aisholpan’s attitude and outlook throughout the film. From scaling a mountain face to capture her eaglet to competing in the world-renowned festival (as the first female and youngest competitor), she approaches everything with a stoic calm and assuredness. Perhaps this can be attributed to her youth, but it is an attitude of which many young women are stripped early on. She turns an entire tradition on it’s head without missing a step. She is never disrespectful to her heritage, though; she is simply growing into who she is and has every right to be. Becoming an Eagle Huntress is not a child’s whim, it is an act of dedication and a sweeping aside of barriers that ought not to be there.

If in doubt, ask yourself, what would Aisholpan do?

 

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Me, Myself and Merida.

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Merida is, by far, my favourite Disney princess of all time, ever. In real life, I’m probably more like Anna from Frozen, but I like to dream that one day I’ll be as bad-ass as Merida. And as ginger.

Princess Merida is a feminist icon. There, I said it. Not only does she rebel against the restrictions of female fashion and arranged marriage, but she proves why these things are unnecessary. She rejects her parents’ selection of suitors in the most spectacular and poignant way – by proving that she is her own mistress. She is the only one worthy of her own ‘hand in marriage’ and she makes no mistake in demonstrating to the world her worth. She is her own best suitor (see Tracy McMillan’s TED Talk on marrying yourself). Quite right, too.

Best of all, she is imperfect, as are her relationships. The crux of the film’s plot is the no-woman’s-land between mother and daughter. Of course, this all resolves itself in the typical fairytale way with a family group hug, but Merida is savvy enough to admit her mistakes and to allow her female role model to be equally imperfect and to love her anyway. I love Merida’s strength, but also how she develops tolerance over the course of the film.

Another thing that makes my heart sing about Brave is that the protagonist is a teenager. Adolescence is a difficult and turbulent time, but it is also a vibrant stage of awakening and self-creation which ought to be celebrated more in the media. Part of the appeal of films such as The Virgin Suicides, The Breakfast Club etc is that the characters are teens asserting their new selves in all their messy glory. Merida is no exception (apart from the fact that she is royalty). Being a teenager is a total ball-ache, catch-22 scenario (you’re not a child anymore, but don’t ever think you are mature enough to know your own mind) and it shouldn’t be. We should learn to listen to our young people and help them to shape their future. Merida’s initial rejection of her mother is understandable; she is denied the autonomy to decide on her future’s course. It is a painful reminder that she is at the in-between stage of life. We need to stop telling our teenagers that their opinions are invalid and that mother always knows best.

Merida is funny, athletic, generous, adventurous and a talented archer. These are all qualities that, in an older person, would gain her a great deal of respect and renown (although she is female, so, maybe not). She has an honest heart and is deeply loyal to her family. But my favourite thing about her is her loyalty to herself. She doesn’t compromise on her own aspirations, she rejects convention and still manages to be diplomatic when dealing with delicate masculine pride. I’d say she’s quite the catch.

MERIDA FOR PRESIDENT!

 

A girl in a red dress: ‘Me Before You’

 

My Film Flavour of The Month is Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) in ‘Me Before You‘. Warning – plot spoilers!

She is the most adorable thing since the beginning of time. Her style is modern, nostalgic, feminine and fun. She mixes total madness that shouldn’t work (and totally does) with sophistication. Emilia Clarke gives her character warmth, sensitivity and genuineness -her wardrobe only makes you love her more. She is quirky, imperfect and determined, qualities which all come through in her clothing choices.

There are definite hints of 50’s styling in Lou’s wardrobe, right from her tootsies to her midi cut, but there is always a little twist taking the traditional to a new, unique level. She rocks nautical looks, neck scarves, Hawaiian dresses, t-bar heels… But her looks are never cliched or dated; she is a new vintage kind of girl. She’s as goofy as Lucy Ball and as smooth as Lauren Bacall but as utterly original as either of them.

Part of Lou’s overall appeal is her dedication to her own sense of self. Her clothes are bright, bold and unabashed – they don’t really fit in her small home-town. At the beginning of the film she is in a suffocating relationship with someone who does not understand who she is or what she wants, however good looking he may be (played by Matthew Lewis). She has a strong sense of duty and works hard to help her family make ends meet, but there is a continuous strain between her loyalties to her family and to herself. Despite a difficult beginning, Lou grows close to her employer, Will (Sam Claflin), for whom she is a caregiver, following a motorcycle accident which has left him quadriplegic. She helps him to live, rather than to just exist in his own body. They go on trips, to the races (for which she has an equestrian ensemble) and on an exotic holiday. Her optimism, however infectious, cannot go so far as to change Will’s mind or his decision to end his own life.

In a bittersweet kind of way, the end of Will’s life is the kick-start of Lou’s. He gives her and her family the financial freedom to move forward, and frees Louisa to focus on her own ambitions, rather than the minutiae of staying in the black. Lou brings Will out of his, understandably, self-absorbed way of thinking with a not-so-subtle ‘you don’t have to be an arse’. Will shows Lou the realms of possibility that she has started to turn her back on – french cinema, university etc. They may be as clashing as some of Lou’s pattern heavy outfits, but they compliment each other well.

Sometimes, you just need someone to let you know that they do make bumblebee tights for adults. And, sometimes, you need a film to be so bittersweet that you can cry, smile and feel hopeful all at the same time.

 

See also: Flavour of the Month: Brooklyn