Director: Deniz Gamze Erguvan (2016)
This Turkish coming of age tale is a bitter sweet challenge to the conservation of prejudice and ignorance.
Powered by astonishingly natural performances, it’s engaging, intelligent, wonderfully fresh and surprisingly moving.
Five teenage sisters have been raised by their grandmother. They’re bright, lively and openly devoted to one another.
We watch through the eyes of the youngest. Lale makes jokes about boobs and giving birth while the older ones discuss sex and virginity. The tiny Gunes Sensoy is joyously defiant in the role as she carries our hopes and fears.
Nihal Koldas scolds and instructs as their grandmother, always doing what she believes to be right. She wails she has given them too much freedom when they’re falsely accused of impropriety with a group of local boys.
Ayberk Pekcan is pitifully macho as their aggressive uncle Erol who consequently imposes a strict new domestic regime.
The house is barred, computers and phones are removed and education is denied them. A dress code is enforced and they’re taught to cook and sew in preparation for future lives of domestic servitude.
The sisters’ different reactions to their new circumstance propels the drama to a range of destinations.
The Paris based Girlhood (2015) covers similar thematic ground to Mustang but this is the far more successful film. The Mustang girls are more rigorously denied freedoms. Plus they’re much more likeable characters than their bullying and work shy Parisian counterparts.
Oscar winning musical Fiddler On The Roof (1971) also featured the tribulations of five sisters. However it was told from the point of view of the father and with a considerably more sympathetic view of the dominant male.
The canny script suggests incarceration creates or exacerbates the girls’ desire to not conform. It is careful not to demonise men as a gender but as individuals. Erol is offered moments of dignity. The girls’ suitors are a mixed bag of fortune cookies.
Neither is this an attack on the culture of Turkey or Islam. Mustang is eager to stress the importance of education for women. It is the end of the school term and the leaving of a beloved teacher that signals the turning of the girls’ lives ‘to shit’. Istanbul is portrayed as an aspirational seat of culture and learning.
Nominated for this years Oscar for best film in a foreign language, wild horses shouldn’t stop you from seeing Mustang.