Though horrific in intent, this French film about a battalion of Kurdish women fighting against the Islamic State in Iraqi Kurdistan avoids scenes of overt violence and goes rather light on the gore. It’s both a relief and a cop-out, since what’s left of Eva Husson’s movie is mostly suffering for the sake of suffering.
The commander of the battalion is Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), a former lawyer from a fairly well-to-do Yazidi family with a husband and a young son. Their village is invaded by IS troops, who summarily execute all the men, including Bahar’s husband, commandeer the children for military mobilization, and imprison the women as sex slaves. Husson structures Girls of the Sun as a chronicle of a specific mission to take back a Kurdish town from IS insterpersed with flashbacks showing how Bahar was militarized. As a kind of Greek chorus, we have the French journalist Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), who, with her borderline PTSD and eyepatch is obviously meant to remind us of Marie Colvin, who was killed covering Homs, which Mathilde has just left when she is embedded in Bahar’s battalion. The two women bond over their equivalent losses (Mathilde’s journalist husband was killed in Libya) but mostly they stew in their own fear and uncertainty. It’s an oddly inert film. Even the battle scenes feel like interruptions rather than means of showing these women’s determination to avenge their loved ones and affirm their faith. It’s not really a problem that the IS soldiers are portrayed as soulless monsters—they barely register as human beings—but the women who serve under Bahar are difficult to distinguish from one another; that is, until one shockingly runs to her death on purpose in order to take out a bunker.
Obviously, Husson does not want to exploit these women’s experiences for shocks and visceral thrills, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with except Bahar’s determination to find her son, who is presumably fighting for the IS now. That should be compelling enough a reason to stay involved with the film, but even that aspect seems outside Husson’s concern. In trying to let these women tell their own tale, she loses the story.
In Kurdish, French and English. Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Cine Swich Ginza (03-3561-0707).
Girls of the Sun home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2018 Maneki Films-Wild Bunch-ARches Films-Gapbusters-20 Steps Productions-RTBF (Television belge)