Sometimes the only way to take down the patriarchy is by picking up an AK-47. This is the central idea of Girls of The Sun, which tells the story of a female-led Kurdish resistance group taking back a town from ISIS forces. Written and directed by Eva Husson, Girls of the Sun puts a necessary spotlight on the strength of these brave women.
It starts with Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a war journalist whose husband — also a journalist — has recently died in Libya. She is grieving in a hotel room, waiting for her mission to start. With shades of Apocalypse Now, the opening builds a sense of promise that Husson ultimately cannot deliver on. When she finally makes it to the Syrian side of Kurdistan, she meets Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), a woman with a quest for vengeance against those who took her son and made her a sex slave.
Bahar’s story takes a dual structure, flitting between the raid of her hometown and her time previously spent under ISIS captivity. At first, Bahar looks like a classic war hero, but once we look back at her life before ISIS took over, we see she is really just a regular woman who loves her husband and her son. She is the beating heart of the movie, making Farahani a sure contender for the best actress award.
This is Bahar’s story, which only makes the framing device feel more strange. With such brilliant and unique characters in the form of the Kurdish fighters, the movie begins and ends with Mathilde arriving and leaving. Did Eva Husson feel the movie would be inaccessible without a white woman to guide us through it? Although Emmanuelle Bercot gives a nuanced performance that is far from the traditional “white saviour,” Girls of the Sun would’ve been much stronger had it committed solely to the Kurdish women, or reduced Mathilde’s part significantly.
Girls resembles a traditional WWII movie than the Vietnam film it promises at first, with the Nazis being replaced by ISIS. Like the Nazis, the fascist group represents evil at its worst, and also contains a similar sense of sexual perversity. The film even shares tropes — such as dramatic escapes and border crossings, tunnel raids and flashbacks to family — that have come to define the genre. For the most part, this helps to stress the severity of the problem in Kurdistan, telling us that history repeats itself if people do not do enough to intervene.
Girls of the Sun is the kind of film that could’ve only been directed by a woman. It’s important to stress that these soldiers are not superheroes, nor should they be seen as “badass” women; Eva Husson shies away from creating anyone remotely close to Imperator Furiosa or Sarah Conner, instead making these characters humans first and soldiers second. The vulnerability they show is refreshing, arguing that displaying emotions need not be a hindrance in achieving victory, and instead can actually be a strength.
The film has the potential to become a wider rallying call for feminist causes worldwide. These women are rape survivors fighting back, something that should prove deeply significant in the #metoo era. Mathilde cynically states at one point that her journalism changes nothing, as people simply click the back button and forget about the horror. Yet, if the success of films such as Wonder Woman and Black Panther show anything, there is a huge demand for movies that take traditional genres and make them fresh by casting women and people of colour in the main roles. If Girls of the Sun has just a modicum of the success of these kind of films, it will help redirect the world’s focus back to Kurdistan. If only the story was a little tighter, and focused more heavily on Bahar, we could have had a classic on our hands.