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Girls of the Sun shines a light on Kurdish women fighting the Islamic State

directed by Eva Husson

Eva Husson’s fictional tale about a very real conflict is stirring and urgent.

A cold, bleak morning, somewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan, on the front lines of the struggle against the Islamic State (IS). A troop of women emerge slowly from sleep and set to work cleaning their rifles. All of them are survivors, rescued from IS captivity. They are about to navigate a tunnel deep into enemy territory – into the maw. To rouse themselves, they chorus a song of defiance: “Women! Life! Liberty!”

It’s one of many stirring moments in Eva Husson’s scintillating and finely observed, Palme d’Or-nominated war film Girls of the Sun – an assertion of hope in a despairing situation.

Since the sudden insurgency of IS, or Daesh, in the summer of 2014, Kurdish women have formed the backbone of the counter-attack, especially in Syria as members of the YPJ, the Women’s Protection Units. Their courage comes with a certain glee: Islamic State fighters believe that if they are killed by a woman, they will not go to heaven, but be robbed of their treasured martyrdom.

Girls of the Sun is a composite of many stories and experiences – a fictional tale in a very real conflict. To narrow its focus, we centre on Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), reluctant commander of the unit, a former lawyer whose husband was executed and son abducted by Daesh.

Interlaced with the hard-edged action of the offensive, we explore her imprisonment, her defilement and her fraught escape with a pregnant comrade.

Where Husson could have easily been merciless in her depictions of violence, she chooses tactfully to imply rather than show, to linger on trauma and aftermath instead. Combat is as it should be: quick, tense, horrible. Composer Morgan Kibby seems to have borrowed her powerful score from the horror-film genre (which, in many ways, this fits into), all discordant glissandos and thudding pulses.

Alongside Bahar is Emmanuelle Bercot’s Mathilde, an embedded journalist fashioned, almost as a tribute, after the late conflict reporter Marie Colvin, replete with dashing eyepatch. She comes across as a cynic, “hooked on lost causes”, but leaves reaffirmed by what she’s seen, even amid the bleakness.

The director’s admirable restraint sometimes drops, as with the finale, which bends to the treacly traditions of Hollywood, and a closing voiceover only reaffirms what we’ve already seen. Nevertheless, Girls of the Sun is an impressive work, full of urgency and indignation.



Video: Vendetta Films

This article was first published in the September 21, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.