Kurmanjan Datka (Курманжан датка; also known in English as Queen of the Mountains) is a 2014 Kyrgyz historical drama/biopic. The film tells the story of Kyrgyz stateswoman Kurmanjan—“datka” means “general” in Kyrgyz, but it has political, not just military, connotations—from her childhood to her role in uniting the Kyrgyz people.
The film is entirely in Kyrgyz, with Russian subtitles, and can be hard to follow without some preliminary knowledge of Kyrgyz history. Kurmanjan was born in 1811 and lived almost 100 years, seeing major changes in the Kyrgyz nation—from a loose grouping of different tribes to a more unified people, but under Russian rule. Kurmanjan gained power when her husband, the datka of the Alai Kyrgyz tribe, was killed in an attempted coup and she inherited his position. She became a powerful leader—she is sometimes known as the mother of the Kyrgyz nation, and today she appears on the 50-som note—but ultimately she also allowed Kyrgyzstan to be absorbed into the Russian Empire.
The film takes the viewer through these political twists, but it also takes particular pains to show Kurmanjan’s life as a woman. Her early years are paid careful attention to, particularly her father’s attempt to sell her in marriage to a man she did not want to marry. In an extremely unusual turn of events, she escaped from the marriage and returned to her father. (This is particularly remarkable in the context of the fact that even today, bride kidnapping is quite common in Central Asia.) Later on, her relationship with and difficulties with her two sons are given almost as much screen time as is politics.
While the film has its issues—it was criticized in particular for its loose portrayal of the facts—it is a good look at a Kyrgyzstan many of us know nothing about. It has high reviews from critics and viewers and is seen as one of the greatest accomplishments of independent Kyrgyz cinema. And of course, its many shots of the beautiful Kyrgyz scenery are well worth a watch.
Director: Sadyk Sher-Niyaz (Садык Шер-Нияз)
Stars: Elina Abay Kyzy (Элина Абай Кызы), Nazira Mambetova (Назира Мамбетова), Aziz Muradilaev (Азиз Мурадилаев), Adilet Usubaliev (Адилет Усубалиев), Mirlan Abdulaev (Мирлан Абдулаев)
Production company: Aitysh Film, Kyrgyzfilm