Girls of the Sun (2018) - Eva Husson
There is a moment in Girls of the Sun when the film's two main characters, Bahar and Mathilde, discuss their children. Both have been separated and both express that their children are their motivation for being where they are. For Bahar, her son has been taken by Isis, and she is leading the battalion of women soldiers in a desperate, and possibly, futile attempt to find and rescue him. For Mathilde, she has not seen her daughter in months and is still dealing with the death of the father. She is there as a reporter covering the war, and these women's fight in the hope of finding some meaning that she can take back to her daughter. This scene explores and expresses the feminity of these women, tying their purpose and motivations directly to their maternal instincts.
The film excels in its taut, suspenseful action sequences. It's in these moments that Husson most effectively conveys the plight of these women. The desperation that has led them to take up arms and seek vengeance and justice by fighting and suppressing the rising occupation. A number of key set pieces throw you into the conflict and deliver nerve-shredding tension. A scene where Bahar leads her unit into underground tunnels especially conveys the chaos and disorientation of combat.
The film also adeptly conveys how quickly circumstances can change, and how these moments can shred the nerves more than intense, extended battles. At one point, after having been captured by Isis, Bahar and other prisoners are being transported by bus when a futile rescue is attempted. The scene is over almost before it starts, but Husson never fails to make you feel the emotional highs and lows Bahar experiences. The narrow line between death and life that these characters live with throughout. Later in the film, the battalion is singing a song, relaxing whilst cleaning their guns. Suddenly an enemy soldier is spotted and within minutes one of these women is dead. These points, if not subtle, are not trying to be. Husson is confident of her message and admirably delivers it directly and with conviction.
We first meet Bahar through Mathilde. The story begins with Mathilde attempting to cross the Turkish border into Kurdistan to join up with Bahar's battalion of female fighters. Gradually, through effective flashbacks, we come to understand how and why Bahar is the leader she is. We see, feel, the fear of Isis occupation as men and children are rounded up, killed and kidnapped right before her very eyes. The films also subject us to the torment, torture, and rape of captured women. It's an interesting statement about gender roles in war. Men are killed by enemy. Women are sold into sexual slavery and the children indoctrinated to become child soldiers. Bahar (and women), in her quest to save these children is positioned the true saviour and rebuilders of the future of these people. While the male soliders are happy to wait around for US airstrikes, Bahar and her women and impatient to rid their homes and country of an vile enemy and rescue and save their future.
Bahar's capture and eventual escape is a harrowing experience and shapes her, and in turn, one which Golshifteh Farahani's performance navigates with subtle depth and nuance. We learn little about Bahar in the warzone other than the reverence her soldiers feel for her. She is stoic, hard, tough and confrontational (especially to male superiors who, the film argues have less invested than her). It's only as the film nears its climax and the prospect of retrieving and saving her son (and by extension the children of this conflict) that the veneer begins to fall. It's in the flashbacks where Farahani's performance layers on the depth of anguish and horror Bahar has experienced.
Mathilde, played by Emmanuelle Bercot, is a decidedly more complex character. Sporting an eye patch having lost her eye at Homs, and clearly based on the real-life Marie Colvin, she is a character who appears frozen by fear of conflict, whilst simultaneously uncontrollably drawn to warzones and the stories of those fighting for liberty and freedom. Her meeting with Bahar and her battalion in particular strike a chord. Although she has little invested in the plight of these women, the film consciously shows us the story through her eyes. As a french photojournalist, the film seems to be making a point about how the West should be paying more attention to the fight. To the lives of these people; those lost and those who fight on. By the end, Mathilde has not learned anything new, but she remains a witness. Proof of the legitimacy of these people. And the film stands as the same. A statement, a celebration of people like Bahar and Mathilde.