Cannes 2018: Husson's 'Girls of the Sun' is a Portrait of Women of War
by Alex Billington
May 14, 2018
"To the ones forgotten by history by those who shape it." While there have been many powerful, important war films over the years, including a few directed by women, Girls of the Sun is a very unique and one-of-a-kind film. Made by French filmmaker Eva Husson, Girls of the Sun (or Les filles du soleil in French) tells the story of a band of Kurdish women fighters, warriors, you could even say, participating in the war in Iraq. This is one of the first and only times we've ever seen a war film about female fighters, focusing entirely on them and their experiences, and it's an engaging and intense experience. More than anything it proves that Eva Husson has the chops to direct even bigger, better action movies and/or features that aren't just simple dramas in a city. And there's a very honorable, empowering aspect to telling this story about these fighters.
Girls of the Sun has a narrative framed around a French war journalist/photographer named Mathilde, played by Emmanuelle Bercot, who meets and follows these Kurdish women into battle. Their mission (at least the one shown in this particular film) is to infiltrate a captured city and attempt to rescue children who are being held and brainwashed at a "lion cub" school where they teach them to become ruthless fighters for ISIS. The group's leader is a woman named Bahar, played by Golshifteh Farahani, and she commands a small group of fighters made up of women who were captured/enslaved before, now free and determined to fight back and give their lives to make a difference. It's inspiring and badass just to see them, learn about them, and watch them fight, and that alone makes this film a worthy creation and seminal work of cinema.
The film is incredibly intense, thanks in part to Husson's talent in crafting this tension and developing the never-ending anxiety of war - something might happen at any time, and you have to always be on alert. That intensity is only part of what pulls us into the experience, and the film uses a few awkward flashbacks to bring us up to speed on what we're seeing in the main timeline. It's a bit heavy-handed at times, and preachy in a few scenes, but still badass. And it never seemed to be glorifying war - it's brutal, we see death, we see destruction, she doesn't hide away from it. All of the characters feel the weight of war, and have that look in their eye - they've all lost somebody. This criticism is something I hear encounter, that a film uses the horror of war to provide us with entertainment, but that's not the case here and rarely is with honest films like this.
Golshifteh Farahani stands out the most in Girls of the Sun - she is so exceptionally talented, and fierce, and never holds back in performances, giving us the full-on depth and emotionality necessary for us to genuinely connect with her character. And she goes even further by allowing her talents to be used to tell important, meaningful stories about women. She wants to show us that there are complex, dynamic, inspiring women of all kinds out there - and her roles prove that and allow every viewer to recognize that quite easily. I love her. The film is a powerful ode to the women of war, a portrait of women who give their lives for human rights. A bit cheesy but still such an impressive, moving feature about the people that history has forgotten even though they fought just as hard as everyone else. Eva Husson is definitely a filmmaker to watch closely.
Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 7 out of 10
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