Tom Augustine on what films to see this weekend
There's a recurring motif in Eva Husson's frustrating, uneven, true-story war film Girls of the Sun (R16) that I love. Against a backdrop of blue sky, a cloud of ash and smoke rises into frame, not dissimilar to the bright, fluffy clouds of some idyllic countryside. The source of the explosion that made this cloud is unseen and without that fiery destruction there's a strange, feral beauty to it. It's one of the more arresting images in this film, which follows journalist Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bircot, directly channelling renowned war reporter Marie Colvin, eye-patch and all) as she tags along with a group of Kurdish women who have formed the titular "Girls of the Sun" to wrest their town back from Isis extremists. Golshifteh Farahani, the preternaturally gifted Iranian actress so stunning in Paterson and About Elly, plays Bahar, the leader of the rebels, a soul-weary and traumatised warrior whose trials and tribulations colour the film through exhaustive flashbacks.
The key issue with Girls of the Sun is not its subject matter but its structure and execution. For a film ostensibly about the team of rebels, rarely are the girls themselves the focus. Husson's story is far more interested in the histories and inner lives of Bahar and Mathilde and their relationship with each other. This means their titanic struggle often feels drained of tension or excitement, so little are the rest of Bahar's team fleshed out into real characters. Husson proves a skilled combat director and individual scenes of war-time frenzy or the calm before are handled well. But Girls of the Sun's resolute focus on colouring in every injustice and trauma Bahar suffers at the hands of Isis in excruciating detail begins to drag on the film, to say nothing of Mathilde, who (despite the engaging real-world subject) feels unnecessarily threaded into the fabric of the story - a pair of white, Western eyes through which to observe this Kurdish tale. Girls of the Sun offers up a fresh, rich way of seeing war through a band of heroic women rebels but, ultimately, gets somewhat lost.
High Life (dir. Claire Denis, R16) is sure to divide audiences when it lands in cinemas this weekend, with its dissection of wayward humanity in the hopeless void of space. The story of a group of death row convicts sent hurtling through space toward a black hole, High Life features an enigmatic performance from Robert Pattinson, continuing to mark himself as one of the most promising performers of his generation. French auteur Denis, meanwhile, continues her lifelong fascination with the gory details of the human body and the gaping void of existence, her steady, removed camera capturing the messy relationships of the inmates in tactile, evocative snatches of imagery. The film keeps audiences at a remove from its story, as if encouraging us to admire the film rather than truly love it. Nevertheless a fascinating, worthy effort from one of our most revered auteurs, High Life is a space oddity worth seeing in spite of its more alienating elements.