As you have probably gathered by now, and despite the movie title in English, this is not a film about topless women on Page 3 of the largest tabloid paper in the UK. The females here are profoundly empowered and they do not wish to become sex objects. Girls of the Sun deals with a battalion of Kurdish Yazidi females fighting to survive and and not to become sex slaves in the hands of the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, a tragic fate met by 7,000 females in the region.
This is a doubly subversive film. Firstly, the warring protagonists are all female, and so is the filmmaker. Few women directors dare to tread to war territory, an area that’s still associated with the male gaze. No extremist wants to be killed by a woman, because they believe that this will prevent them from going to paradise. Secondly, the ladies are entirely of Kurdish origin (except for war reporter Mathilde, played by French actress Emmanuelle Bercot). Very few films are made from a Kurdish perspective, a people that remains largely marginalised, stateless and particularly vulnerable at the time of war.
French-Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani plays Bahar, who carries a Kalashnikov and spurs the other females into combat. The film zigzags back and forth in time as Bahar tells Mathilde about the horrors she has been through, including the tragic fate of her husband, child and sister. The most riveting moments of the film include Bahar begging extremists to rape her instead of her sister, and the Islamic State forcibly taking Bahar’s son away from her.
Despite an impressive photography and excellent acting, this is not a film without flaws. The editing could do with a few improvements. I struggled to piece the story together. The Syrian war is of course complex and multilayered, and my partial ignorance of the nuts and bolts of the conflict has probably prevented me from grasping the minutiae of the story. But here the disjointedness is a bit excessive, and it partially hindered my emotional engagement with the film. Also the instrumental music score becomes a little mawkish towards the end, detaching audiences from what should be the most dramatic moments of the movie (such as a woman in labour while fleeing the enemy).
This is not the first time the French director Eva Husson deals with women battling to keep their moral, sexual and physical integrity. She did it previously in her directorial debut Bang Gang (2015). She became inspired to to make Girls of the Sun after reading testimonials from the actual female survivors.
Girls of the Sun showed in the Competition of the 71st Cannes International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. Nearly 100 women marched for equal rights shortly before the film preview. The film premieres in the UK as part of the BFI London Film Festival taking place between October 10th and 21st.