The premiere of Eva Husson’s Girls of the Sun on Saturday became a headline-grabbing event as eighty-two women, led by jury president Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda, marched up the red carpet together to protest the lack of female representation at the festival. Eighty-two, because that’s the number of women directors whose work has premiered at Cannes over these past seventy-one editions—as opposed to 1,688 male directors.
Girls of the Sun, one of only three films directed by women in competition this year, has so far been championed by only a few critics. One of them is Little White Lies’ Adam Woodward, who calls it an “inspiring story of a group of women who lay siege to a small Kurdish town in order to reclaim it from the hands of extremists.” As the head of the combat unit, Golshifteh Farahani “builds on her impressive turns in About Elly and Paterson.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang grants that Girls “has some tense, muscular action filmmaking to recommend it, as well as a feel for tough-and-tender female camaraderie that reaches the screen far too rarely to be dismissed lightly. But Husson’s formal chops—already on display in her lusty 2015 teen drama, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)—decidedly outstrip her instincts as a screenwriter. Representational merits alone can’t distinguish this movie’s clumsy farrago of good intentions, ham-fisted story choices and cloddishly on-the-nose dialogue.”
Variety’s Jay Weissberg goes so far as to suggest that “interested parties are better off checking out some of the documentaries, such as Gulîstan, Land of Roses, rather than this well-intentioned yet cliché-riddled lunge at the tear ducts.”
“Girls of the Sun is an exploitative film that doesn’t have the courage, calm, and purpose of the Kurdish female fighters it claims to depict,” writes Agnès Poirier, arguing in the Guardian that saying so doesn’t make a critic anti-feminist.
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Dave Calhoun (Time Out, 3/5), A. A. Dowd (A.V. Club, C+), Marc van de Klashorst (International Cinephile Society), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B-), Fabien Lemercier (Cineuropa), Jordan Mintzer (Hollywood Reporter), Barbara Scharres (RogerEbert.com), and Sharon Waxman (TheWrap). And Girls is one of the films Nicolas Rapold and Amy Taubin discuss on a special Cannes episode of the Film Comment Podcast (36’25”).
Through Thursday, by the way, Le CiNéMa Club is presenting Husson’s fifty-minute film Those for Whom It’s Always Complicated (2013).
Update, 5/27: For Missouri Williams, writing for Another Gaze, the protest “makes the lukewarm reception that this film has received in the majority of outlets and the number of male reviewers who seem to gloss over the central aspects of the film, or who miss the point entirely, doubly disappointing.”
But dispatching to Sight & Sound, Christina Newland writes: “Hearing female voices and telling stories as remarkable as that of these courageous Kurdish women is more important than ever. That’s why the films that lift those voices should be held to high standards, ones of subtlety and quality that Girls of the Sun clearly cannot meet.”
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