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Friday, 07 November 2014 00:00

Foreign Oscar Entry Review: Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains by Carlos Aguillar

Ноябрь 2, 2014 at 6:18PM / SydneysBuzz

"Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains," Kyrgyzstan's Official Submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. U.S: None Yet. Production Company: Aitysh Film


Retaining cultural authenticity in the face of foreign influence seems to have been the most arduous battle for Kyrgyz people throughout their turbulent history. Overcoming more than a century of Soviet control, before independence in 1991, was the final step for these mostly-nomadic people to finally have a recognized nation of their own. Kyrgyzstan, however, remains an unknown part of the world for most Westerners.


The lack-locked county is still off the beaten path for tourists, which has preserved its people’s lifestyle and ancient traditions. Given this, it’s not surprising that the story of one of their greatest heroes is a mystery for most unfamiliar with the history of Central Asia. In Sadyk Sher-Niyaz breathtaking epic saga “Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains,” the region’s exotic landscapes come to life to honor a woman that defy the conventions of the conservative Muslim Kokand Khanate.

Opposing her own arranged marriage, fighting the vicious Russian invasion, and becoming the unquestionable leader of the Alai tribe are a few highlights in Kurmanjan Datka progressive biography. Born in the early 19th century, Kurmanjan was supposed to follow the same road as every women around her by getting married and fading into the background as the men decided over their future. Her expected destiny didn’t differ from that of most women across the world at the time. In the film, young Kurmanjan (Elina Abai Kyzy) is introduced as she risks her family’s honor by giving water to a helpless girl about to be stoned for presumably committing adultery. Her actions impress the region’s leader Alymbek Datka (Aziz Muradillayev), who is also a defender of female empowerment despite criticisms.

Unsatisfied with the man she was forced to marry, Kurmanjan escapes and is considered a disgrace in the eyes of the patriarchal system enforced. Knowing that her life has to be tied to someone who understands her need to voice her opinion, Kurmanjan marries Alymbek Datka. Thanks to this her influence grows and she can’t no longer be silenced. Yet, Kurmanjan’s loving alliance to Alymbek was only the first step in her lifelong quest to unite the forty tribes that made up the Kyrgyz people. With the advent of foreign powers in nearby territories, the Queen of the Mountains and her husband knew that unity would be their only weapon to fight off the enemy.

As many biopics of its scale, the film is presented with the need to include its subjects entire lifespan into a 130 minutes. Fortunately, Sher-Niyaz’s smoothly transitions between the different periods by carefully choosing crucial moments that marked the heroine’s existence as both a mother and a leader. After Alymbek is assassinated and now supported by two adult sons, 50-year-old Kurmanjan (Nasira Mambetova) is forced to lead her army of valiant soldiers against the Russians and their imperialist intentions. For Kurmanjan protecting her fatherland and saving her people’s way of life is above any personal weakness. She is nothing short of a Kyrgyz Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I. Gender becomes an obsolete argument when her enemies witness the power of her conviction. Like the tiger that’s seen throughout the film in her visions, Kurmanjan commands the terrain with resolute might.

Lavishly executed to the smallest details, Sher-Niyaz’s period piece splendidly captures everything from the vivid colors of the Kyrgyz traditional attires to the magnificent vastness of the warriors’ land. However, at the core of this spectacular historical adventure are the two actresses the embody Kurmanjan 25 years apart. Both performances are cohesive regarding the emotional state of a woman responsible of ensuring there is a future for her fellow countrymen. She experiences loss in a subdued fashion. Exuding strength and wisdom earns her the respect of both followers and detractors alike. Her commitment to the greater cause is so profound that she is willing to accept and suffer through the death of her son rather than jeopardizing her nation’s survival.

Coated in heartbreaking poetry and ethereal mysticism, Sher-Niyaz’s feature provides everything expected from a film of its magnitude while uniquely celebrating its homeland. Films from this part of the world rarely reach Western shores, but this one could certainly serve as a fantastic introduction. With a combination of large set pieces, battles sequences, and poignant intimate moments, “ Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains” is an astonishingly impressive testament not only to the unlikely greatness of the legendary figure it depicts but to that of the entire Kyrgyz people.


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