This band-of-sisters frontline war drama from French filmmaker Eva Husson (‘Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story’) honours the cause and bravery of female Kurds from the Yazidi people in northern Iraq who took up arms in 2015 to free their region from Islamic State. Husson finds her story in a small group of all-women soldiers led by Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), whose young son has been holed away in a nearby Isis training school for ‘young lion cubs’, now a target for liberation by a determined Bahar and her comrades. With them is Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a French photojournalist wearing an eye patch (a tribute, perhaps, to the late British journalist Marie Colvin), who is suffering her own tragedy: her husband was killed in Libya while working as a reporter, and her relationship with her teen daughter back home is in tatters.
As we follow these women into battle, the film flashes back to explain Bahar’s recent past. As happened to thousands of women in the area, the men in Bahar’s family were murdered, and many women were kidnapped and used or sold for sex. Bahar’s escape from captivity offers one of the film’s most tense, effective sequences: not least as one of the women is pregnant and fleeing just as her waters break.
You can’t fault the ambition and the feeling of ‘Girls of the Sun’. This is an important, enlightening story that seeks the human reality behind dry headlines and a refreshing female perspective on war. As drama, though, it’s often clumsy and bombastic, and it’s saddled with an overbearing score. The role of Mathilde feels awkward: it’s hard to shake the feeling that she’s only there as a way-in for an international audience – a feeling fuelled by Bercot’s performance; you never truly believe her character is a hardened, damaged war correspondent. There are powerful and enlightening scenes, and there’s a catchy energy to the battlefield action. But the immediacy and credibility of the women’s mission feels compromised by one-too-many corny moments, unconvincing dialogue and a sense of uncertainty on Husson’s part over whether she wants to take a poetic or realist approach to her tale. It’s a cracking story, shakily told.