Two emotional film endeavors screen at Island theaters


“Manchester by the Sea” tells a grim tale, “The Eagle Huntress” a soaring one, but both are emotionally powerful. “Manchester by the Sea” arrives at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend, and has already garnered multiple awards. Oscar nominations are expected to follow. “The Eagle Huntress,” which also plays this weekend, narrates a more uplifting story.

“Manchester by the Sea” is a deeply troubling and pessimistic film. Lee Chandler, played with remarkable skill by Casey Affleck, works as a janitor in Quincy. It quickly becomes obvious that he is not a happy man. Pain wracks his face and actions, but the audience does not find out why until the film is well underway.

Lee learns that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) is about to die of heart failure, and he hurries back to the picturesque little North Shore fishing village where he grew up. Once there, he is shocked to find out his brother, who has just died, has designated him guardian of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges, in a compelling performance). Lee is not ready or willing to take on this responsibility, but he stays with his 16-year-old nephew while making the arrangements after his brother’s passing.

Director Kenneth Lonergan does a masterful job of portraying the world of the town’s white, blue-collar men, their drinking, their carousing, their humor. The interactions between Lee and his nephew are particularly compelling. Unlike his uncle, Patrick is a content young man immersed in the activities of a teenager and recovering from his father’s death. He juggles two girlfriends, plays hockey, and is the lead guitarist for a band amusingly called the Stentorians.

The director inserts flashbacks to develop the background of Lee’s life in Manchester by the Sea. Like his relationship with a young Patrick, his relationship with his wife Randi (Michelle Williams in another excellent performance) is a warm and happy one. He is also a devoted dad to his three children. Once tragedy befalls this family, Lee is devastated. His marriage self-destructs, and his wounds are close to unbearable. Lee exists among the walking dead.

As masterful as “Manchester by the Sea” is, it raises uncomfortable issues. Patrick heals, Randi heals; is healing possible for Lee? What will his role with Patrick be? The film asks these questions, and viewers must decide for themselves what the answers should be.

‘The Eagle Huntress’

The breathtaking Kazakh steppes and Altai Mountains of Mongolia provide the setting for “The Eagle Huntress.” This documentary by Otto Bell, narrated by Daisy Ridley of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” fame, tells the story of Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13-year-old girl whose ambition is to become an eagle huntress. If she achieves her goal, she will become the first girl in 12 generations of men in her Kazakh family to hunt with eagles. Believing girls have the same capabilities as boys, her father supports her. The tribe’s elders, however, are not in favor of letting a girl pursue this male activity. “Women get cold,” they say, in addition to making other derogatory comments.

Nevertheless, Aisholpan takes instruction from her father and demonstrates her strength and talent. Among the many tasks necessary for her to learn are taking an eaglet, old enough to fly but young enough to be seized from its cliffside nest, and training it. The raptor must learn to respond to Aisholpan’s calls and to attack a dead fox that she will drag behind her while on horseback. Like Aisholpan, her eaglet is talented and learns quickly.

The young huntress trains to compete in the annual Golden Eagle Competition, where she will be the youngest competitor and the only girl. The results are exciting and surprising. But the story doesn’t end there. Aisholpan must also show that she can ride with her father into the often treacherous mountains and hunt a real fox with her eagle. Not only is her story engrossing and uplifting, “The Eagle Huntress” also paints a fascinating picture of a remote and interesting culture. This is a film that will appeal to adults and children alike.

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