Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 02, 2019 6:01 am 
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Girls in danger

The 2019 New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema's section of female-centric films gets off to an intense start with Eva Husson's Girls of the Sun/Les Filles du soleil. The film focuses on women in a brutal war fighting ISIS, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a small all-female squadron led by Goldshiteh Farahani, who's acted in movies in French, Farsi, and English before. Farahani, whose dark beauty somewhat resembles the young Joan Baez, is impossible to look away from. But for all its intensity, and the authentic feel of the locations, the movie doesn't feel quite as real or as consequential as it would like to.

The story begins with an intrepid, unshakably risk-taking woman journalist with a patch over one eye that she lost in Homs - a French version of Marie Colvin, whose life was dramatized last year by Matthew Heinemann in A Private War. Here she is called Mathilde H. and is played b the intrepid actress-filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot (of My King and Standing Tall). Mathilde H.'s solemn declarations from time to time to Bahar (Farahani's character) about the need to bear witness but not to bear arms add an overwrought sincerity to what is already a film too much aware of its own seriousness.

The woman's power aspect of things is also heavy-handedly underlined by Bahar's insistent strategy, in which she and Mathilde cooperate, speaking in French, which she handily happens to speak (having, she says, studied in Paris). As Bahar, followed closely by Mathilde H., leads her "Girls of the Sun" squad, survivors, all, of a massacre in Corduene and motivated to fight to avenge their own loved ones, she also insists, against her male cohorts, on a bolder strategy to take a hill directly, risking life and limb but speeding things up.

But the story doesn't much differentiate other personalities than those of Bahar and Mathilde, or make clear the larger outlines of the tactical situation of the skirmishes. Eva Husson had good and ambitious intentions, but seems out of her depth here. One could not help remembering as one watched it that her previous and debut feature was Bang Gang, a movie of unadorned sensuality focused on well-off teenagers having a summer orgy of group sex. That was a more distinctive effort. Maybe she is trying too hard here to make up for her initial frivolity.

(See Jay Weissberg's Cannes review for Variety on this "pedantically commonplace drama" and for references to better representations of the real-life subject matter of the female fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan.)

Girls of the Sun/Les filles du soleil, 115 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition and was included in at least nine other festivals including Toronto and London. Released Nov. 21, 2018 in France, it received very poor reviews (AlloCiné press rating 1.9), and its Metascore is 59. In his Hollywood Reporter review, Jordan Mintzer described Husson as adopting "an overtly manipulative, rather cheesy approach to the genre that can play more like fantasy than reality." Screened for this review as part of the UniFrance-Film society of Lincoln Center 2019 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Rendez-Vous showtimes:
Friday, March 1, 1:30pm
Sunday, March 3, 8:30pm (Q&A with Eva Husson)

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