Uplifting, devastating, touching, Mustang is a magnificent tale about sisters wrestling to break free of cultural and generational gender shackles.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven paints a disturbing picture of the backward conservative perspectives women have in rural Turkey. Lale and her sisters (Nur, Selma, Ece and Sonay) celebrate the end of a school semester by frolicking in the ocean with their male schoolmates. When they arrive home, the community whispers have turned that innocent amusement into obscene behaviour. They arrive home in a storm of accusations, the house is cleansed of all sources of perceived perversion (computers, books, phones, magazines, “inappropriate clothes”, and they become confined to the family compound. Bars are fused to every window. The girls refuse to follow the path quietly and their constant, if tempered, rebellion against their imprisonment is wonderful.
Writers Ergüven and Alice Winocour demonstrate how significant the generation gap is in Turkey. Early in the film we discover that the girls’ parents died in a traffic accident. As these contemporary kids attempt to reason with or interact with their Grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and their Uncle, the gap between the generations may as well be the gap between the Earth and the Moon. The old world conservatism isn’t massaged by people who lived through the 60s, the Cold War and the liberating influences of the internet’s cultural imperialism. Instead their carers fear hard, and extinguish technology and reflexively return TO the habits of their upbringing. In the quiet of night as members of this quintet of sisters are married off, the vulnerability of the remaining girls is preyed upon; and it’s sickening.
Ergüven shoots the whitewashed walls of the house to frame their literal and figurative prison. The reverberations of several amazing tunes from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford score amplify the melancholy. The ragged violin sounds and the tender piano notes rise and fall with the tides of emotions as the girls are forced to follow traditions and participate in arranged marriage processes.
Each of the girls are absolutely pitch perfect; but when they’re together there’s magic. So much of their performances rely on being able to wordlessly communicate. There’s so many scenes where the girls aren’t talking but there’s feelings and thoughts being exchanged. Each of the girls expresses a facet of the experience and gets their moment to take the story to different heights. Günes Sensoy’s Lale is the fire of the film. The youngest of her sisters and the most perplexed by the behaviour of her elders. Ergüven uses Lale’s gaze as the gauge for what’s happening in the film. The audience looks to the traditions with harsh and often stupefied eyes.
Ilayda Akdogan’s Sonay is the eldest and most beautiful sister, who under the threat of screeching rejection of all of her grandmother’s inferior suitors is instructed to get the boy’s family to ask for her hand. Unfortunately that’s a package deal for Tugba Sunguroglu’s Selma, the frustrated second fiddle to her more beautiful and similar aged sister. Suguroglu’s performance shines as Selma in once of the most powerful moments in the film. When her in laws require verification that she bleeds in the marital bed to verify her virginity, she’s marched to the hospital for an inspection. Placed on her back, in shameful stirrups the Doctor inspecting asks if she’s a virgin. She flicks a retort back to him claiming she’s a tramp. When he verifies that her hymen is in tact, and questions why she’d say such a thing, she drops a bomb. “It’s not like you’re going to believe me, whatever I say.”
Elit Iscan’s beautiful Ece has a devastating journey; which leads her to destructive impulses and self harm. Iscan is angelic, quiet and reserved. She’s like a heroine in a portrait. Doga Zeynep Doguslu’s Nur is Lale’s last sister standing, who inherits Ece’s place of being abused, and her experience reveals the horror of the situation.
Ergüven and Winocour offset the films tragic elements with dizzying emotional heights. Early in the film, Lale persuades her sisters to temporarily escape their lock-up to go and watch to a football (soccer) match that men have been banned from, due to fans fighting. The exhilarating escape, the wind in their hair standing in the flat bed of a truck to the transport bus, the chorus of joy from the crowd of women figuratively (and literally) unchained is the soaring beacon that Lale uses as her guiding light. These girls will not be contained.
Mustang is astonishing; staying with you long after viewing.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Written by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven & Alice Winocour
Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan , Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoglu
Günes Sensoy … Lale
Doga Zeynep Doguslu … Nur
Tugba Sunguroglu … Selma
Elit Iscan … Ece
Ilayda Akdogan … Sonay
Nihal G. Koldas … The Grandmother
Ayberk Pekcan … Erol
Bahar Kerimoglu … Dilek