It's the beginning of summer in a small village in northern Turkey. Lale and her four sisters are on their way home from school, innocently playing with local boys but prying village eyes view their games with suspicion and word soon reaches their family. Their home consequently becomes a prison at the hand of their uncompromising uncle and all the girls have to now live for is a future of arranged marriage. But these girls' rebellious streak will not be tamed so easily. Drawing vocal support from critics, festivals and audiences across the globe, this beautiful debut from director Deniz Gamze Erguven is a touching portrayal of innocent strength and resilience against modern misogyny.
It’s rare for a socially important film to be any more interesting than a Ken-Loach-type diatribe against the establishment, but Mustang is wondrous cinema. It’s an absorbing, beautifully realised film that will both uplift you and make you as angry at Turkey as Midnight Express did.
Five sisters, as free-spirited as the Wild West horses that give the film its title, are scolded for playing innocently with boys on their way home from school. For this they are subjected to a virginity test. ‘One minute we were free and then it all turned to shit,’ says the youngest, Lale, in voice-over. Their house becomes a prison and a ‘wife factory’. They’re forced to wear ‘shit-coloured dresses’.
If the premise sounds unpromising, the viewing experience is a revelation. Filmed in a style that is both naturalistic and luminous, it’s like an amalgamation of two other brilliant films: Virgin Suicides and Innocence.
Director Deniz Gamze Erguven is a French-Turkish Sofia Copola. Provocatively, she films her innocent girls in various states of undress around the house, which has drawn howls of reactionary outrage in Turkey. This merely proves Erguven’s point that Turkish society defines everything women do in terms of their sexuality. The backlash to Mustang in her home country has been violent, with she and her cast subjected to such threats that she has vowed never to make another film there.
In Turkish cinema it has been a long time since the heady days of Yilmaz Guney, who directed his amazing 1982 film Yol by proxy from a prison cell. Mustang is searing, shining cinema that bears comparison. As well as being a trenchant critique of rural Turkish society, it’s about coming of age, making the most of one’s options whatever one’s circumstances and much more besides.
Can the girls escape their lot? You’ll be rooting for them, especially the feisty Lale, Deniz’ alter ego, as the narrative builds to a tense climax.
Girls just want to have fun
- Mustang review by MW
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You rated this film: 3
Charming story of the travails of five fatherless teenage Turkish sisters whose youthful exuberance for life is suddenly curtailed when they are effectively locked up by their uncle after having been observed frolicking in the sea with local boys. Life is downhill from there on in this stifling patriarchal society with first one then another sister being married off reluctantly to dumb-faced, half-witted suitors chosen by their uncle. Eventually the tables are turned in a gloriously anarchic fightback led by the youngest sister. This is a little joy of a movie.