Girls of the Sun: Good Daughters, by Alexander Miller
There’s a great scene in Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun that appears in the trailer. One of the titular soldiers is standing over the body of a fallen enemy. She pulls a ringing phone out of his pocket. The voice on the other end says, “Who is this? Where is my brother?” She replies “he’s dead.” The reply is met with, “No, he’s in paradise.” She then says, “No, he’s in front of me, stone, cold dead. And killed by a woman. Care to join him?” After hanging up, she explains to the French journalist traveling with them, “They don’t believe they’ll go to paradise if a woman kills them. Too bad.” This scene epitomizes the spirited and fiery atmosphere that, if consistently sustained, would be the makings of a brilliant movie.
Girls of the Sun is a well-intended work that focuses on a battalion of Kurdish female soldiers, Daughters of the Sun, who, after the Yazidi massacre, seek to liberate their town from hostile Isis insurgents. Good intentions and a narrative inspired by topical, fact-inspired material is compelling but Girls of the Sun falls short with narrative inconsistencies and an unfocused delivery. Eva Husson’s direction is furnished with inspired moments, featuring some solid acting (namely from lead Golshifteh Farahani) and the film has heart but Girls of the Sun doesn’t hit its stride and the film doesn’t tap into the meat of its source material, leaving too much on the side with underdeveloped characters.
The most self-sabotaging omission is the lack of a strong protagonist. In a film about guerrilla warfare, especially in the male-centric climate of combat in the Middle East, the subject of an all-female battalion is utterly captivating and unique. The very synopsis sells the movie but the biggest obstacle is the lack of cohesion in elaborating the story.
After some obligatory title cards filling us in on the details surrounding the Yazidi massacre, the struggle of the Kurdish people and the ISIS invasion of Mt. Sinjar, we’re introduced to a French journalist, Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), an eye patch-sporting, rattled war correspondent who is inexplicably carted off to document the all-female battalion of Kurdish soldiers. Mathilde comes off as cool and strong. She can make jokes about her eye patch and is calm under pressure. She meets the stalwart Bahar, the leader of the battalion and, like any self-styled badasses, they have their shields up while assessing one another but, of course, the two contrasting women are cut from a similar cloth. These two commanding leads have seeming chemistry. The focus shifts from Bahar to Mathilde far too much and, instead of drawing an evenhanded portrait of each character, we’re left skittering from one side of the fence to the other, reducing each character to thinly traced caricature. This turn is, of course, a major disappointment, given the potential strength of Mathilde and Bahar, but the film seems to have an intuition unto itself. Unfortunately, Husson doesn’t exercise better judgment in bringing it all together.
After some well-mounted skirmishes with ISIS soldiers (bringing us to the scene mentioned above), we get some intel on the background of Bahar. By the midsection of the film, the story begins to gain some momentum but it’s soon derailed in a misplaced and overly long flashback recounting Bahar’s escape from captivity as a victim of human trafficking. While this aside is suspenseful and shines a much-needed light on the blight that is human trafficking, it completely derails the film. The tonal shift is so jarring, the movie, which wasn’t on solid footing to begin with, never gets back on its feet.
While Girls of the Sun puts us in a specific category at the front lines of the Kurdish struggle, it feels like this movie was bound to deliver two of my favorite subjects–revolutionary fervor and feminism–but falls short on both. On the one hand, there’s some admiration to derive as Husson doesn’t default to any war movie conventions. But she shirks formal narrative structure and not to the benefit of the film. It feels like Husson was hampered with a rushed or underdeveloped script but she is credited as both director and writer. Girls of the Sun has potential that’s lost in a few too many misdirections and lackluster structure. The passionate epilogue from Mathilde has resonance but where was the passion when we needed it?