Having debuted at TIFF 2018, Girls of the Sun starts a regular theatrical run this weekend (April 12th, 2019) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Director Eva Husson drops us right of in the middle of the Daesh battleground of Northwestern  Iraqi Kurdistan and tells us the story of 2 women who are thrown together through circumstance but develop a deep bond between the war and the revelations of their own hardships individually.

Veteran war correspondent Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot) is trapped both emotionally and physically as she awaits her next assignment. Wearing the scars of her job literally and figuratively, she has lost an eye due to shrapnel in a previous incident,  she can’t bring herself to talk to her own daughter as it brings it reminds her of a great loss. Stationed to cover a group of all female peshmerga fighters, a group mainly consisting of former captives that had been owned as sex slaves, she immediately is drawn to their fiery leader Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani). Bahar demands attention from her superiors as she fights to show the true capabilities of her squad and move the fight forward instead of waiting like her commanding officers seem content to do- calling in air strikes safely from the sidelines.

A rarity in the cinematic world, Girls of the Sun is a war story with a distinctively feminine perspective in front and behind the camera. The film doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to the fighting, we’ve seen this type of combat many times before on screen, but it also doesn’t underwhelm either, presenting a believable depiction of the war that feels like it has some real stakes involved. Director Husson wisely uses the scarves that the peshmerga are known for wearing in battle as a means of identification during the battle sequences which also helps the impact and the stakes behind the losses that occur.

Where Girls of the Sun really thrives is in the performances of its 2 female leads. Bercot and Farahani are both excellent here, delivering excellent portrayals of women that have had this war take the lives out of them, both of whom are now more emotionless shells of there previous selves. Farahani goes through the greater arc here though as all of Bahar’s story is explored through flashbacks that are dispersed throughout the film, revealing the full transformation from victim to a fighter, and Farahani is more than up to the task of bringing this to life. Her performance is nuanced and powerful, making Farahani a talent to keep an eye on in the future. And as the real reason for her determination is revealed, you believe her motivation completely. The supporting cast is decent here with what they are given, which is not much more than archetype characters and cannon fodder.

Bookended by narration from Mathilde, her character there to ‘witness and tell’ not engage in the fight herself, the film strives for a pseudo-biopic feel that doesn’t resonate as well as the rest of the film. Where the film does succeed is in telling the story of Bahar and highlighting the peril of these fierce and courageous women who fight on after great personal loss and tragedy. But the film is at it’s best in the quiet moments of Bahar and Mathilde, and the few times those moments are shared. It shows the personal struggle behind this story and shows off the great talent of the lead performers.

Read more here.