The Eagle Hunter's Son
Utterly gorgeous to gaze upon, "The Eagle Hunter's Son" is a story of fathers and sons, young men burning for independence, and the delicate balance between man and nature, master and beast.
The story takes place in the harsh foothills bordering Mongolia and Kazakhstan, where ethnicities and religion blur from one tribe to the next. Young Bazarbai (Bazarbai Matyei) is of Mongol descent and is a Muslim sheepherder, like his father (Mardan Matyei) and older brother Khan (Asilbek Badekhan). A few mountains over, and you will encounter Chinese and European, Buddhist and Christian.
Bazarbai is a member of the nomads with a long tradition of being eagle hunters -- meaning they use the mighty tamed birds to hunt for them, but also that they must at some point hunt the birds themselves to capture them. They follow a strict rule of keeping an eagle for 10 years, and then it must be set free.
As the story opens, it is a time of separations for the family. Khan, who has come of age, is due to go into the city to seek work to help support his family. As the younger brother, it falls upon Bazarbai to take his brother's place in the fields -- which means he cannot leave to go to school as he'd hoped.
His father's eagle is old and nearing the end of its service, and Bazarbai does not get along with it. The eagle fails to come to him when the boy calls, and he even calls it names and pitches stones at it when his father isn't watching.
But during a gathering of eagle hunters, Bazarbai is separated from his father and unwittingly sets out on an epic journey, with only the eagle as a companion. His horse is killed by wolves, and the boy is all alone in the freezing, barren landscape. The father sees this as the natural order of becoming a man, though, and sends the eagle to guard and protect Bazarbai.
During his travels, Bazarbai will encounter drunken bandits, a beautiful girl named Inaara (Serikbai Khulan) that he will help and be helped by in turn, and a malicious circus owner who will do anything to include the "Eagle Boy" in his act.
Director Rene Bo Hansen, who co-wrote the script with Staffan Julen and Stefan Karlsson, wisely lets his camera roam lovingly about the awe-inspiring Mongolian landscapes. His direction of the actors, most of whom are non-professionals, is at times awkward. But Bazarbai Matei is terrific as the willful but good-hearted title character.
"The Eagle Hunter's Son" is a truly international tale, with a European crew and mostly Mongolian cast. Occasionally the story gets a little far-fetched and mystical -- the eagle's abilities grow beyond the ordinary into the supernatural. But perhaps this bit of naiveté is part of the film's charm.