Girls of the Sun

⋆½ out of four stars

Not rated: In English and subtitled French, Kurdish and Arabic.

Theater: Edina.

 

In this team effort involving French, Swiss, Belgian and Georgian filmmakers, Emmanuelle Bercot plays Mathilde, a French reporter who wears an eyepatch after being wounded by shrapnel during a battle in Syria.

As the film opens, Mathilde 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 jihadi 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, becoming an avatar of Kurdish self-determination and feminist catharsis.

Written and directed by French filmmaker Eva Husson and inspired by real-life fighters, this a film of admirable ambition but vexingly uneven execution. It 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 feel like an unconvincing series of poses cadged from better war movies. The overall bludgeoning effect isn’t helped by a musical score continually trying to signal that this is Something Very Important.

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Little Woods

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for profanity and drug content.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

Everyone comes out of this indie drama looking good, and writer/director Nia DaCosta (making her first feature film) comes out with a career.

It’s a story about being broke in America in 2019. It’s about all the bad things that can come from having no money: the health problems, legal problems, emotional problems, problems of the spirit, as well as the problem of every single material thing in your life being lousy — food, clothes, car, environment.

The story is set just south of the Canadian boarder in North Dakota.

Tessa Thompson (TV’s “Westworld”) is, as always, a serious and somber person. As Ollie, she ekes out a living by running a coffee truck and doing other people’s laundry. She has a criminal record: When her (now dead) mother was sick, Ollie was arrested for smuggling pain pills across the Canadian border, some of which she’d give to her mother and some she’d sell.

Now she is days away from finishing her parole. “You’re so close,” her parole officer tells her. “Please stay out of trouble.” That’s movie talk for “Uh-oh.”

But it’s not just herself she has to worry about. Her younger sister, Deb (Lily James, “Downton Abbey”) is sweet but scattered and has the survival skills of a lemming. On top of that, she’s pregnant again. Ollie has to decide if she’s willing to risk everything to help a loved one who is clueless.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

 

Breakthrough

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars.

Rated: PG for perilous situations.

 

Inspiring dramas based on the true stories of medical miracles have become a mainstay of the faith-based film industry. This one, which opened Wednesday, is one of the more authentically moving entries in the genre.

It’s powered by a gripping lead performance from “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz. She plays Joyce, the mother of John (Marcel Ruiz).

While playing with some friends on a frozen lake, the ice breaks, and John slips under. He’s submerged for 15 minutes until rescued by a fire department emergency responder, Tommy (Mike Colter), who hears a voice that compels him to keep searching for the boy.

But Tommy is not the only one who refuses to give up. For 45 minutes, John has no pulse, until Joyce begins to pray over his unresponsive body in the ER.

Directed by Roxann Dawson (her first feature film), written by Grant Nieporte (Will Smith’s “Seven Pounds”) and produced by DeVon Franklin (producer of Jennifer Garner’s “Miracles From Heaven”), the storytelling is fairly formulaic.

The same can be said about it cinematically, but what distinguishes the film is the daring depiction of a complex, flawed, fierce and faithful woman.

The true, tangible miracle here is one of a loving community in which everyone works on John’s rescue and recovery. It wasn’t just God at work, but the supportive efforts of many, many people.

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service