D: Deniz Gamze Ergüven. DP: David Chizallet and Ersin Gok. W: Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour. Starring: Günes Sensoy/Doga Zeynep Doguslu/Tugba Sunguroglu/Elit Iscan/Ilayda Akdogan/Nihal G. Koldas/Ayberk Pekcan/Bahar Kerimoglu/Burak Yigit
Finally releasing here in the UK this week, Mustang will break your heart. Premiering at the Cannes festival last year the film was France’s submission and eventual nominee for Best Foreign Language film at the this year’s Oscars. Already winning a slew of other awards, Mustang is as beautiful as it is relevant in a world still struggling with active feminism and an industry denying opportunities to women.
The project blossomed out of a writing partnership between director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and fellow director Alice Winocour at a Cannes program. The two would go on to develop Ergüven‘s idea into a feature. Mustang follows five orphaned Turkish sisters who live with their uncle and grandmother in a remote village. After school one day the group meanders with some boy classmates on the beach, playing and being young. Their play is viewed differently by the adults in their village and measures are taken to ensure the girls chasteness and eventual marriageability. Essentially as one sister says, “the house turned into a wife factory.”
Ergüven has described the five sisters like one character with fives heads. Each piece of action one girl takes is in reaction to their sister. An excellent analogy it sums up how the siblings’ dynamic is so beautiful and so painful when it is wretched apart. The girls are long haired elfin creatures that are natural onscreen and with each other. Günes Sensoy as Lale gives the group its voice and fight as the youngest member. Surrounded by images of shrouded female bodies and direct and indirect messages demanding female chastity and sublimation, Lale’s tomboy girlhood is easy to love.
Like another French film Girlhood, Mustang illustrates a community that prides itself on conservative and traditional gender roles. Virginity is currency and marriage the only place for a woman. Like the spectacular Girlhood, the film does not interfere and force an emotional hand. Longer shots allow the prison-like home to shrink as the freedom of the girls movement is drastically reduced. A simple and elegant score adds just the right amount of magic to certain scenes.
Surely a lot has been written already about the importance of Mustang as a film written and directed by women starring women. Cross culturally it is also a fascinating text with the relationship between France and Turkey. Yet what I want to say here is that yes Mustang is beautiful and spellbinding, but also a reminder of the repulsive treatment of women clearly outside of current feminism/wage gap discussions. It is not only the categorization of women as either Madonnas or whores, but that generations of women are still being taught that their role in life is and can only be marriage and motherhood. Mustang safely stays away from directly referencing religion and thus remains anchored with the sisters’ restricted freedom as each story breaks our hearts. An brilliant and significant watch that hopefully you won’t miss.