I normally don’t do movie reviews here, but this film is exceptional. It’s not directly related to this blog’s central theme (medical tyranny) but it is related indirectly through the topic of bearing witness to injustice.
“Girls of the Sun / Les filles du soleil” (2018; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6704880/) by filmmaker Eva Husson is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. It’s about real women, the female Kurdish soldiers who went up against Daesh (aka Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL).
Daesh are the Islamists who went on a spree of rape, murder, kidnapping, extortion, torture, and human slavery in the region of Syria and Iraq in 2014. They targeted Kurds and also Yazidis and Christians.
The film is “Loosely based on true events in Iraqi Kurdistan. On Aug. 3, 2014, ISIS invaded Mt. Sinjar. Their goal: the Yazidi genocide. In 24 hours, 500,000 people fled. The rest were killed or captured. Resistance was organized around the Yazidis, the Kurdish guerrillas, and the official army. The names of people, places, and factions, as well as dates, have been changed.” Trailer:
This is a documentary about these fighters:
This is a documentary on the experience of being a sex slave of Daesh, as told by a Yazidi woman.
The leader in the film, Bahar, is a powerful and inspiring woman who has lost her entire family and village to Daesh. For example, when inspiring her troops to fight she says:
“Our only options are to die or fight. Each of us must ask herself: “How long can I take it? If an enemy comes, will I be able to pull the trigger?” The answer is yes. You are capable of anything. Your presence alone is a victory. The very act of refusing oppression is a victory. Fighting is a victory. It’s the enemy’s turn to fear us because we fear no one. When they hear our female voices, they shake in fear. We’ve been through the worst. What could be worse than that? All they’ve killed is our fear. With each sister who was captured, a warrior was born. And that’s what they’ll never understand: our rage to live.”
I was moved to tears at times but also inspired by the triumph of the human spirit against unbelievable adversity. This is one of the best war films and films about women ever made, and I have seen hundreds of films of both genres over the years and am a good judge. I would certainly see it again and recommend it to others.
The entire film can be seen at this link.
The main actress Golshifteh Farahani, an Iranian actress, does a phenomenal job. The languages spoken in it are French, Kurdish, and Arabic, with English subtitles.
One of the characters is inspired by the famous French war journalist, Marie Colvin, an interesting person in her own right. She died in combat.
The film challenges the viewer to be what Colvin was: a witness to injustice and a voice of truth. Unfortunately, not all viewers are up to the task. I am thinking namely of the French film critic Agnès Poirier who, writing in the left-wing Guardian, found the film “appalling: dreadfully written” and “poorly directed.” I was shocked by her words, to be honest.
The reason I am writing this review is not to just share my enthusiasm for the film, but also to contest Poirier’s poor review and to try to explain it myself. I know her criticism is objectively wrong because the film was well-acted, produced, directed, written, etc. So I simply could not understand why this film gave it such a bad review. It truly puzzled me.
I have seen many bad films, and this was not one. I would be embarrassed to give this film a bad review, given how well it was done. Her review was a slap to the face of the women whose truth was told by the film. And therein lies a sort of answer.
I think the reason that Poirier gave it a poor review has nothing to do with the quality of the film. It’s because it exposes the spiritual superficiality of the life of those who watch it. It’s morally challenging to the comfortable and narcissistic viewer. Its stark truth asks us to overcome our usual indifference to the suffering of others, to look outside the comfortable worlds we inhabit, to come face to face with evil and try to find something redeeming, despite it.
I can see how it might rub a privileged film critic in France the wrong way on an unconscious level — much in the way that the film Earthlings rubs meat-eaters the wrong way, or the Gospel of John rubs non-Christians the wrong way. These are also good films but they really challenge viewers. They take on issues so big, so transformative, that many viewers feel they have to reject the message by rejecting the messenger (the film).
At the end of Girls of the Sun, I was left wondering, what can I do for these women and other victims of injustice? I felt I could do so much more and that much of my life had been ill-spent on my own small problems and issues. And I think that’s a good response to have, to ask what more I can do. How can I be the change I want to see in the world? How can I be a witness for truth? The film challenged me, and I think it’s supposed to.
Jesus said, “let him who has ears, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). Some do not have ears to hear, meaning that their hearts are closed. They hide from greater truths in superficial worlds. A film that calls them out of those worlds must therefore be bad.
There’s even a line in the film about how people in the West don’t want to know the truth and try to block it out — but the photojournalist tells the truth anyway, whether they want to hear it or not. I think that applies to any negative review of this film that may exist. To borrow a line from the film A Few Good Men, some people can’t handle the truth.
I also want to thank Eva Husson for making (in my opinion) one of the greatest films about injustice ever made. I used to be an activist for nonviolence, but in this case, defensive war is absolutely justified. Daesh needs to be eradicated from the world. It is evil.
Here is an interview with the director:
Cineuropa: How did you decide how graphic you wanted this film to be? After all, you are talking about sex slavery, too, as many women who enlist have experienced the horrors of captivity.
Eva Husson: As a woman, I often feel a bit upset when I see the way violence towards women is presented on screen: it’s almost as if some directors, and viewers, took pleasure in rape scenes. I decided to keep it to an absolute minimum, also because I didn’t want to alienate people.
I went to Kurdistan and met with as many women as I could: captives, ex-captives, female fighters and even reporters. I am not Kurdish, obviously, but I hate it when movies attempt to represent one nation or one culture, instead going for something completely different. Ours was a small production, but we were flying people in from all over the place – people who were Kurdish. One of the actresses fled the country when she was only three years old, after her father was murdered. She still carries it inside. If I had shown everything as it really is, most people wouldn’t have been able to take it. They would have said: “It’s too much.” But believe me – the reality is beyond anything you could ever imagine.
Is the French reporter, Mathilde, a bit like you? An observer coming in from the outside, trying to understand what these female fighters are making a stand for?
Mathilde is more representative of the Western world in general. She has been to war, so she is not a newbie, and she is not naïve. But I wanted her to have this empathy towards the girls because that’s what I noticed about good war reporters – they are not afraid to care about these people. I think the only moment when I allowed myself to be in there was when we hear Mathilde’s voiceover. Everything she says I could have said as well. As Westerners, we should take responsibility for a lot of things that happen in the world that we enabled or caused. Kurdish people were the only wall we had that protected us from extremism, and what they achieved on their own is truly remarkable. But they don’t represent money, and they don’t have any diplomatic power, so nobody takes their struggles seriously.
Do you think that when it comes to wars or any type of armed conflict at all, women’s suffering is often overlooked? Newspapers mention how many were killed, not how many were raped.
Thank you for this question. The male perspective has been dominant for so many years, and that has led to a huge chunk of the world not being represented at all, not being seen or heard. I think the first reactions to my film show that it’s still a problem, but it’s up to us to keep the conversation going.
Throughout history, women have always been warriors. The Amazons aren’t just mythological – they really existed. In 1942, there were thousands of female warriors on the Russian front. But in terms of cinema history, it has never been shown. It’s always the same thing – two steps forward, one step back. But if we all keep pushing and take responsibility for our actions, I think we will finally move forward.
In the case of these women, fighting often gives them a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have. For the first time in their lives, they are seen as equal to men.
That’s an important reason why so many of them enlist. Let’s not kid ourselves – their society is extremely patriarchal. I remember that when I first saw a picture of a female fighter breastfeeding, it struck me as very powerful. Some women go to the front, and they have their mothers or sisters come over and bring their children with them. That’s how they keep having this bond. These girls understand that for them, it’s either about being stuck in the house for the next 30 years or fighting for their freedom. So they decide to fight.
I really wanted to make this film because in terms of storytelling, we live in the “White West”. There are so many stories left to tell, so we should encourage every single female filmmaker to go and explore their territory. Just go for it! There is still a lot to do, but for the first time in years, what’s coming next looks exciting.
Even though Girls of the Sun is a war movie, it feels very intimate. Was that always your intention?
Personally, I get very bored with action movies. They always have some scenes that last for 20 minutes and still don’t make any sense. I realised that in terms of war movies, there are only two films I like: Apocalypse Now and The Thin Red Line. Just like in these films, I wanted to stay with my characters and their point of view because in life, we can’t really succeed on our own. That’s why Bahar says at one point: “We are all heroines.” We all experience tragedies in our everyday lives: we all know how it feels to want to die because you are in so much pain. It’s easier to deal with it together.