In “Girls of the Sun,” Emmanuelle Bercot plays Mathilde, a French foreign correspondent whose rakish eye patch is clearly meant to evoke the late Marie Colvin. As the film opens, Mathilde — whose eye was injured by shrapnel during a battle in Homs, Syria — is heading back to the front, this time in Northern Kurdistan. There, she falls in with a group of female Yazidi fighters, former captives of ISIS who have banded together to seek not just military victory but also moral retribution: According to the Islamic State’s fundamentalist worldview, a jihadist who is killed by a woman doesn’t get to paradise.
Although viewers may be apprehensive at the thought of a movie about the Middle East translated through the gaze of a white European proxy, once Mathilde gets to the front she meets Bahar, a former attorney who has the heart of a natural warrior. Portrayed with a combination of mournful gravitas and ferocity by Golshifteh Farahani, Bahar soon takes over the story in “Girls of the Sun,” becoming an avatar of both Kurdish self-determination and feminist catharsis.
Written and directed by Eva Husson and inspired by real-life female fighters, “Girls of the Sun” is a film of admirable ambition but vexingly uneven execution. There’s something infectiously bracing in the sight of Farahani leading a troop of determined women as they seek to conquer a movement that here is portrayed less as an expression of Islamic orthodoxy than pathological misogyny. As Bahar says during one of her motivational speeches to her charges, “The very act of refusing oppression is a victory.”
But Husson’s script — created in collaboration with Jacques Akchoti — too often feels formulaic and didactic, with Bahar and Mathilde’s inner and external conflicts finally giving way to forced and obvious melodrama (which comes to a head in the film’s maudlin, self-aggrandizing epilogue). The battle scenes, which should have the taut realism and intensity of “The Hurt Locker,” instead feel like an unconvincing series of poses cadged from earlier, better war movies. The overall bludgeoning effect isn’t helped by Morgan Kibby’s musical score, which constantly signals that this is Something Very Important.
As a chronicle of the grievous effects of ISIS’s tyrannical rein in Iraq, during which thousands of women and children were subjected to kidnapping, murder, rape, torture and sex trafficking, the subject matter of “Girls of the Sun” is important, indeed. And as an attempt to portray not just trauma but also resilience and resistance, its mission is beyond reproach. As a movie, though, “Girls of the Sun” is a swing and a miss, faltering and ultimately buckling under its own noble intentions.
Unrated. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema and the Cinema Arts Theatre. Contains scenes of graphic war violence. In French, Kurdish, Arabic and English with subtitles. 115 minutes.