Girls of the Sun
It’s all too easy for a war film to veer into cliché without focusing on what makes its particular story unique. Girls of the Sun occasionally starts to head toward the generic thumping of “War = Bad,” but its strong female characters and the fight they have in them stop it from being lost in the sea of other movies about war and its atrocities.
Splitting its time before and after the overnight abduction of 7,000 women and children in Kurdistan, Girls of the Sun takes its time to let us get to know the characters. Though the film’s narrative is bookended by the monologue of an embedded journalist, Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), its focus is primarily on the leader of the battalion, Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani).
Mathilde has seen far more war than many of the most seasoned soldiers. Loosely based on the real reporter Marie Colvin, who was featured in the Rosamund Pike film A Private War, Mathilde still has some kindness in her face. Her eyepatch and dry sense of humor, however, are the biggest signals of the distance she must put between herself and the horrors of war that constantly surround her.
Bahar was one of the women kidnapped out of her home at night, separated from her son, and made into a sex slave. When we first meet her, she’s a competent and confident leader looking to keep her female soldiers safe and defeat the extremists. She was once a lawyer and a mother in a perfectly typical, if boring life. Now, she not only has to grapple with what she has personally been put through, but also with the current state of her city and country.
The acts of war we see on screen are quite jarring, but Girls of the Sun manages to keep the truly terrible parts just off-screen. We see the reactions to shootings and explosions, but not the violence itself. That might be to spare the weaker stomachs in the audience of seeing any blood, but the impact of the focus on the horrors of survival only amplifies the effects these bursts of violence have on those around them.
Girls of the Sun is historically accurate (so far as I can tell), but avoids the pitfalls of pretending that its plot is somehow a surprise. By jumping along the timeline on either side of the war and abduction, the emotional focus is on Bahar and Mathilde’s experiences in the war rather than the war itself. Seeing these women targeted for their gender, and then fight back so aggressively, is both a reason to cheer and a reason to scream. So many of these women were snatched into their new life and are left with only one another and their weapons as a way to pull through. The most poignant moment to show this is a spontaneous singalong amongst the women in the battalion. The scene feels organic and cathartic. These women need a release and they have to settle for a song.
Strong women and narrative structure save Girls of the Sun from being just another tragic war film.