Mustang (2015)

Review #1,299

Director:  Deniz Gamze Erguven
Cast:  Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
Plot:  When five orphan girls are seen innocently playing with boys on a beach, their scandalized conservative guardians confine them while forced marriages are arranged.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Feature.  Won Label Europa Cinemas & Nom. for Camera d'Or and Queer Palm (Cannes).
Runtime:  97min
Rating:  PG13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture.
International Sales:  Kinology

“Everything changed in a blink of an eye.”

One would have felt a bit of pity for Mustang as it was shortlisted to compete against the might of Son of Saul for the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar.  Still, that should not take away the joy of seeing this superb directorial debut by Deniz Gamze Erguven. 

The joy doesn't come from the subject matter of Mustang, which to be frank is not a cause for jubilation—it focuses on the plight of five sisters and their hope for freedom.  Rather, the joy emanates from the delight of experiencing Erguven's work in full flow.  She is a director that puts audiences at ease with her storytelling and technical assurance, and it is hard to detect any false note. 

The five sisters in question, varying in ages and thus their suitability for marriage, are bound by a collective close-knit relationship.  After playing at the seaside with some boys on their last day of school, they are forced to live within the confines of their house after their guardians (grandmother and uncle) accuse them of illicit behaviour. 

The setting is pastoral Turkey.  Its inhabitants are steeped in traditional if archiac moral and cultural values, guided by a stifling patriarchal order.  The sisters find ways to escape their 'prison', if only temporarily, without arousing suspicion.  In the film's most memorable sequence, they secretly leave the house to watch a football match played to an all-female crowd. 

Mustang features excellent performances all-round, but the film is told from the point-of-view of the youngest girl, in some way illuminating with child-like innocence the wish to mature beyond one's years.  As much a coming-of-age piece as it is a work about the human desire to be free of all impositions against all odds, Erguven smartly combines drama and comedy, but underlines them with a sense of disquiet. 

There's tense energy to the filmmaking, marked by scenes that benefit from elements of suspense.  The climax pits fear and hope together, a race to see which comes out tops.  Since Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Palme d'Or-winning Winter Sleep (2014), there has not been a Turkish film to garner as much international attention as Mustang.  Let's hope Erguven will have a great career ahead of her.

Verdict:  There’s tense energy to the drama as it unfolds in this Turkish film about the human desire to be free of all impositions.  


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