Film Review: GIRLS OF THE SUN (Les Filled du Soleil) (France 2018)

Girls of the Sun Poster

A Kurdish female battalion prepares to take back their town from extremists.


Eva Husson


Jacques Akchoti (collaboration), Eva Husson (screenplay)

GIRLS OF THE SUN is director Eva Husson’s (BANG BANG A MODERN LOVE STORY) second feature, inspired by an actual Yazidi female combat battalion that took weapons in a fight against ISIS.  

The story follows ]an impassioned war correspondent, Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), into the Daesh battleground of northwestern Iraqi Kurdistan, where she is embedded with a unit of female peshmerga fighters.  Led by Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani), the unit is made up of women formerly held captive — many as sex slaves (which the film emphasizes a few times)— by Daesh following the massacre of their husbands and the kidnapping of their children. Seamlessly weaving between the harrowing pasts that brought them together and their perilous present, Husson highlights the shared suffering that strengthens their bond and their will to fight to get their village, and their families, back.

GIRLS OF THE SUN is too obvious in its attempt to propagate the importance of feminine issues.  The theme of a woman reporter aided by women fighters escaping the brutal ISIS fighters should be enough of a theme to state that women are just as important as men and can do their job just as well if not better.has a child.  The child has to be a daughter.  When a General insists that enough men have been lost in the war, the female leader says corrects him to say that women have also lost their lives.  All them men are shown as either bumbling idiots, sex abusers and ugly brutes.  The females, however, are sympathetic and most of them are really good-looking.  It is all too easy to make the enemy so vulnerable and the women too strong.  The women also break out into song of Women, Life and Liberty. 

The French reporter can speak Kurdish.  The Kurdish leader can speak French.  Yet another case of making the story too convenient fo its own good. 

The fact that French reporter could have retuned home but instead stayed behind makes no sense, especially since she has a daughter back home. She ha already lost an eye (for audience sympathy) due to a war injury.  Has that not taught he a lesson yet?  She an even joke that losing one eye makes it easier to sleep and she volunteers for guard duty.  Really?

One can only feel sorry that this well intentioned female film with a solid plot idea has not achieved its goal.  To Husson’s credit, she had done enormous research for her film.  She  the encompassed work of filmmaker and journalist Xavier Muntz, who she met in October 2015 while he was documenting the Kurdish resistance to the jihadi insurgency.  Husson ultimately conducted roughly thirty hours of interviews with Muntz as part of her research to make the film. Muntz has a cameo playing himself in the movie.  I hate  to say this, but perhaps a male director would have done a better unbiased job.  


LA TETE HAUTE (STANDING TALL) (France 2016) ****

standingtall.jpgLA TETE HAUTE (STANDING TALL) (France 2016) ****
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot

Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Rod Paradot, Benoît Magimel

Review by Gilbert Seah

LA TETE HAUTE follows, for a large portion, the same filming style as the Cannes winner Laurent Cantet’s ENTRE LES MURS (THE CLASSROOM) and the more recent Stephanie Brize’s LA LOI Du MARCHE (MEASURE OF A MAN). All three turn out to be fascinating films, real life dramas suited to this kind of filming technique. The filming often has the camera stationed in a set-up in which a confrontation occurs. The actors have their role plays and they go at it, ensemble-style. The result is a compelling watch, with a more realistic feel as the scene looks totally unscripted, though it may not be. The camera focuses primarily on the actors, often with closeups on the reactions of dialogue that take place. The Dardenne Brothers attain an identical realism with a different technique, often placing the camera at neck level of the actors and following them closely around. LA TETE HAUTE occasionally feels like a Dardennes film since the protagonist is a kid, as kids are frequently the subjects in a Dardennes film. It would to be surprising if Bercot herself got some inspiration from Dardennes’ LE FILS another film about a delinquent boy.

Bercot allows the audience to root for the hot-tempered delinquent called Malony(Rod Paradot). Who would not like to see someone progress through the system and improve to be a functional citizen? But Bercot shows that the process is long and difficult but not impossible. Bercot (who co-wrote the script) attributes more effort by those helping the boy than put in by the boy himself. As the adage goes: “It takes a village to rear a child.”

Besides the boy, the supporting characters are all equally interesting. The mother, who is herself a delinquent, loses her two younger boys to social services. The boy’s councillor was himself a delinquent, younger on and got this job believing in the system. And there is the judge, magnificently played by Deneuve with all her regality. The scene in which she stretches out her hand to the boy in both desperation and sympathy is the film’s most touching moment.

But director Bercot takes her film one step further. She inserts more incidents than are normally found in a family drama. Included is a car crash, expertly shot and a home abduction.

There is much change the boy goes through, but these changes must be observed by the viewer. Malony is shown for once in a very vulnerable state crying for his mother when placed in prison for the first time. The way he holds the pencil to sign his name at the judge’s office shows progress from the way he held a pen with his fist at the start of the film. It can also be observed that most of the characters, the councillor and judge are also victims of the system. They have to work the system, just like the boy to each’s own advantage. There is much to be observed and learnt from Bercot’s film. That is what makes it so outstanding. It is a film about life and hardship – and how everyone faces his or her own at one time or another.

It is seldom that we get good French films these days. Cinefranco is gone. The number of French films that are commercially released has been reduced. This winner, that was chosen to open Cannes this year (the last time a French film opened Cannes was in 2005, Dominik Moll’s LEMMING that never got released here). It is a surprise and indeed good news that LA TETE HAUTE is released and before TIFF. The film comes highly recommended.