My biggest concern as the story of Girls of the Sun began to unfold was the presence of a white journalist at the center of much of the action in what is supposed to be the harrowing tale of a group of warrior women from Kurdistan, all of whom had been captives of ISIS at some point but escaped and exist to defeat this oppressive and murderous terrorist group. As is often the case in films that show traumatic experiences like this, the white character often serves as a conduit to ease the audience into this world. But writer/director Eva Husson (Gang Bang-A Modern Love Story) uses the journalist—a French woman named Mathilde H. (Emmanuelle Bercot)—as more of an observer, collecting the stories of kidnapping, torture, rape, human trafficking, and eventual redemption to ultimately put out into the world through her words and photos. She stands with these women to listen, but doesn’t attempt to supplant them or deny them their mission.
The fighters are lead by Bahar (the great Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, from Paterson, The Upside, About Elly), whose journey to this point is seen through a series of sometimes painful flashbacks that show her watching family members executed, her young son getting taken from her to be trained by ISIS to be a killer, and she and her sister being taken by the group to be assaulted, beaten and turned into slaves, as many thousands of women were by the extremists. Inspired by real events (with names, dates and places changed for safety’s sake), Girls of the Sun is about women fighting for women, which seems like the most timely and relevant message for the times.
Strictly as a suspenseful wartime tale, the film has a handful of genuinely gripping action sequences that pull no punches as far as the violence, which only adds to the movie’s authentic feel. There’s a sequence at the end involving getting a pregnant woman in labor across the border to freedom that feels somewhat unnecessary even if it’s 100 percent factual; the moment is tense enough without that added element. But thankfully, the moment doesn’t sink the film’s incredible message and story worthy of telling, even in a barely fictionalized manner. Farahani is always a welcome and talented presence in any movie, and when the film narrows its focus on her (which is a good deal of the time), it soars.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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