During any conflict or war, women almost always become tools used by the other side or their own people. Used in horrific ways. They find themselves in peril. Victims of violence – rape, kidnapping or other forms of brutality. Females of all ages are seen as bargaining chips in times of conflict.
In the Iraqi part of Kurdistan in 2014, 7,000 women – young and older – were captured and taken hostage by the Daesh in the Sinjar Mountains. Some women were able to escape this, join the Kurdish army and banded together to form a unit of fighters. They looked to seek revenge on those who took them and committed horrific acts against them and their families.
This film, based on actual events. gives us a window into their training and how they hid themselves in the tunnels of Daesh. Led by former lawyer Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani – Body of Lies, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge), the female soldiers are followed by the eye-patched French war reporter Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot – Mon Roi, Polisse). She is embedded with the women and gets a ton of access to them getting their trust so they end up talking to her about their experiences. Despite this Mathilde questions whether telling the truth is worth all she has to go through.
Bahar’s intention is to take back the town of Corduene, which the extremists/ISIS have wrested from the inhabitants. While doing this she always has in the back of her mind that her young son has been taken by ISIS and is now in training to become a soldier for them. Her burden, like most of her fellow soldiers, is heavy.
What these women, including Mathilde, who has seen so much in her time covering conflict that she rarely has a sleep not interupted by bad dreams, and all they have experienced have going for them in regards to forming a fighting unit is a tight bond.
Moving back and forth between the past and present, director/screenwriter Eva Husson (Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), Those For Whom It’s Always Complicated) delves into the question of memory in heightened times like this.
The camerawork here really helps to tell the tale. Besides panning in on the faces and body language of these women, it also uses the environment – mist on the mountains, landscapes, etc. – as an aspect of the story.
War from the female perspective has not often been told. Especially from this point of view. Women as victims of war has been done, but this one shows that they can be victims and then take a proactive stance on how they are going to deal with it.
It is an emotional film that has made the rounds at film festivals this year. At Cannes, where it was only one of three films in Competition which were directed by a woman, it earned a standing ovation and was also screened at TIFF.
Director Husson had a rather small budget to make this film. Despite this restriction, she has managed to do justice to the story. Honors the women who were involved. Does attempt and succeed at getting to the humans behind the stories we see on the news or in the papers. Not let us forget the human element or price. At the same time I wanted a little more from this film. A few more risks or an effort to get beyond the portrayal of the women as one dimensional heroines. They definitely are heroines, but are also human, meaning have flaws.