When dealing with monumental world tragedies in film, you have to be very confident that your material can stand up to the sheer emotional weight of its subject matter. Tackling ISIS’s sex slavery of Kurdish women, and those same women’s subsequent military fightback, Girls of the Sun unfortunately falls into the category of ‘utterly average film attempting to raise its stakes on its premise alone’. Eva Husson’s film is disappointingly by the numbers, too conventional to even begin to capture the horror that ISIS visited upon these communities, with no character that successfully distinguishes it from any other mediocre war movie.
Inspired by various different Kurdish freedom fighters, Girls of the Sun also looks to the power of journalism in warzones, represented here by driven reporter Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a weirdly obvious Marie Colvin stand in for a film that isn’t directly based on any specific true story. She bonds with an all female unit of ex-captives, headed up by highly capable warrior Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), as they slowly advance upon an occupied town to liberate a school. Most of the story beats are very rote (all the women are defined by either trauma or motherhood, never given personalities of their own), and none of them land with the weight they should. Character deaths are offhandedly dealt with, Husson failing to humanise the war.
Quite a few times, Mathilde asks Bahar or her second in command Lamia (Zubeyde Bulut) a question which makes them think of their past. In most of these scenes, they respond by wistfully looking away while Husson lurches unsteadily into a flashback. It’s an incredibly clunky and old-fashioned narrative choice. Battle scenes don’t fare much better. Husson effectively builds up tension before a clash, but her staging of the firefights leaves a lot be desired. There’s a fine line between discretion in showing violence and simply making things unclear, and Girls of the Sun falls into the latter category too often.
There are a couple of great images, such as a dreamlike super-slow-motion explosion or tears streaming down an ash-caked face, but a film about women fighting ISIS and denying these kamikaze rapists the ‘honourable’ death they desire should be more impactful and memorable than this. We haven’t really seen any dramas on this subject matter yet – perhaps it is still too terrifying for the western consciousness. Focusing on the women of the region is definitely the place to start, but a script this basic really isn’t.