Starring Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal G. Koldas, Ayberk Pekcan
Making her directorial debut, Deniz Gamze Ergüven delivers a powerful film that explores the older customs of Northern Turkey and the adverse effects it has on children coming up in the modern age. France’s official submission to the 88th Academy Awards, Mustang like many of the other nominees expose the audience to the ignorance of other cultures. That sounds harsh, but it’s exactly what Austria’s Labyrinth of Lies did. These films put the audience in a curious position, because here in the arguably civilized world, we watch in outrage as children are punished for enjoying their childhood and how blood relatives care more what the neighbors say about the family name than the individual.
Lale (Sensoy) is the youngest of five sisters whose parents were killed after she was born. The sisters aged 12 years old to 17, on their way home from the last day of school, walk by the beach and splash around with some local boys. By the time they reach their grandmothers house, word has been passed on that the girls were acting in a provocative manner and may have sullied themselves. The grandmother (Koldas) insists all the girls go to the doctor for virginity reports, fearing they will never get married. When they return with a clean record, the house is transformed into a prison with bars on the windows and all electronics thrown away. Now Grandmother must marry them off quickly since her child rearing skills are being questioned and the family name in jeopardy for the girls behavior.
The simple story is so profound and rousing it lasts with the viewer long after the credits roll.
Ergüven’s script is very balanced showing the concern the grandmother and uncle have for tradition. One might look at this film as tragedy from either side. Yet from American eyes we quickly point out these girls never needed a reason to act out or misbehave until the cultural prison intervened. Women are encouraged not to laugh openly in public, wearing anything form fitting or be seen with a male. The girls see marriage as a form of escape; Sonay the oldest forces her grandmother to allow high school boyfriend Ece to take her hand while junior sister Selma isn’t so lucky. The story is told from Lale’s point of view, she is also the angriest and most resistant of all the sisters.
As first features go Mustang is bare bones, with no familiar faces, ordinary edits and cinematography. Yet the simple story is so profound and rousing it lasts with the viewer long after the credits roll. In one of the most unbelievable scenes, Selma’s new in-laws bang on the bedroom door, demanding to see bloody sheets on her wedding night. This scene exists for many reasons, but to show that it isn’t just the grandmother’s embrace of outdated customs, but an entire cult of fanatics. Even when tragedy strikes, the grandmother isn’t knocked off her course of marrying the young girls to whomever will take them off her hands.
Heartbreaking, powerful and easily enrages the viewer.